Monday, May 28, 2012

Takoma Park redistricting, round 1 + Resolutions for Reuben Snipper & Ron Wylie

Due to the Memorial Day holiday, this week the city council will meet on Tuesday evening, May 29. Of particular interest to Ward 1 and other city residents: A report from the city's Redistricting Task Force, slated for 9:20 pm. (It may come up earlier, if preceding items wrap up quickly.) Redistricting will redraw ward boundaries. One option would reassign portions of Hodges Heights, half the 7100-7200 stretch of Carroll Avenue, and Victory Tower to another ward.

More on redistricting in a moment. First, two earlier agenda items are worth calling out --

  • A Resolution Recognizing Former Ward 5 City Councilmember Reuben Snipper, with opportunity for public comment. Reuben resigned his council seat effective last Tuesday. He plans to move soon to Rome, where his wife, Cheryl Morden, has taken a job. A special Ward 5 election to replace Reuben will be held in July. Meanwhile, the city wishes to honor Reuben.
    Reuben began his council service in early 2007. His was voice of calm and common sense on the council. Extra: The community is invited to a reception to honor Reuben, from 7 pm to the 7:30 pm start of the council meeting, at the community center.
  • A Resolution Expressing Condolences to the Family and Friends of Ron Wylie, again with opportunity for public comment. I was very sad to learn of Ron's death, on May 15. He was director of local Adventist Community Services (ACS). He stepped in to save the organization from closing. He rebuilt it to help meet a broad set of community needs via programs (for example) to address hunger in the community and to refurbish used computers for distribution to folks without the resources to buy new equipment and provide computer training. Under Ron's leadership, ACS took on operating the Piney Branch Elementary School pool, offering lessons, exercise programs, and open swim periods.
    Ron was a wonderful person. You can read more about him on the Columbia Union conference Web site.

You can read the two draft resolutions in the council agenda packet, where you can also read the Redistricting Task Force Report report.

Redistricting Task Force (RTF) members include Ward 1 residents Lyndon Wilkes and Douglas Grube. Douglas served as co-chair with Ward 3 resident Ellen Zavian.

The RTF considered many options, guided by requirements and considerations related to population numbers and characteristics. The report describes two consensus options, which they will present at the council meeting. I found a pair of maps, created by Councilmember Terry Seamens, to be very effective illustrations of the two options. The maps overlay the proposed redrawn wards with the current ward boundaries.

Option A leaves Ward 1 boundaries as-is. It geographically enlarges Wards 5 and 6 by reassigning streets from Wards 2, 3, and 4. One notable change is that moves Geneva Avenue and one side of Richie Avenue, including the residence of Councilmember Seamens, from Ward 4 to Ward 5.

Option B alters Ward 1. It places Darwin Avenue and Grant Avenue downhill from Holly Avenue into Ward 4; that is, it splits the Hodges Heights neighborhood. It places Victory Tower and the odd-numbered side of the 7100-7200 stretch of Carroll Avenue into Ward 3. It also divides the Ward 3's SS Carroll neighborhood amoung three wards, 1, 2, and 3.

Judging from the 2003 redistricting exercise, I expect the 2012 redistricting process to involve exploration of additional options before we arrive at a best option. Please do share your thoughts about redistricting (or any other city matter) with me, and please do attend the Tuesday evening, May 29 council meeting if you wish to add your voice, personally, in honor of Reuben Snipper and in memory of Ron Wylie.

Seth, 301-873-8225

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What should the city do with $653,220 in new tax-duplication revenue?

The Montgomery County Council, just last week, supported a $653,220 payment to the city for Municipal Tax Duplication for Police Services. This is money we had not anticipated receiving. Thanks go to City Manager Barb Matthews, Police Chief Ronald Ricucci, and Mayor Bruce Williams for really pushing this issue. And thank you to the county council for voting for this payment.

What should the city do with this money?

I suggested to my council colleagues that we apply this tax-duplication payment... to reduce tax duplication. The city is gaining unforeseen revenue that it could apply to reduce its FY13 property-tax rates.

Some of my council colleagues disagree. They would have the city retain the funds and not reduce tax rates.

Whatever your opinion, now is the time to weigh in. Please attend the council meeting, Monday evening May 21, to voice your opinion during the public-comment period.

If you can't attend the meeting, please contact city-council members by e-mail. Write to --

  • Bruce Williams, brucew@takomagov.org
  • Fred Schultz, freds@takomagov.org
  • Reuben Snipper, reubens@takomagov.org
  • Kay Daniels-Cohen, kaydc@takomagov.org
  • Tim Male, timm@takomagov.org
  • Seth Grimes, sethg@takomagov.org

Do note that city services would not be cut if the tax-duplication funds were applied to reduce tax rates. I'll also say that the time is right for a rate reduction. The council created the TASDI Committee, back in 2004, to study and strategize on Tax and Service Duplication Issues. And the city is in relatively good financial shape: Our fund balances and our prospects for future years, noting that we'll gain additional revenue from an additional set of speed cameras that we expect to install in the coming months.

Lastly, in case you're not up on tax duplication: Takoma Park property owners pay property taxes to both the city and the county. City residents are covered only by city police services (the focus of this additional payment). The county recognizes that city property owners pay taxes to both the city and the county, even though city taxpayers don't receive county police coverage. That's why they're giving us back this additional $653,220, as recompense for tax duplication.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Status of route 410 negotiations, May 13, 2012

PEN neighbor Robert Lanza posted a bit on the question of route 410 ownership & maintenance. That's Philadelphia Ave in our neighborhoods. I got his OK to include others in my reply, with current status information, as of May 13, 2012 --

Negotiations between the City of Takoma Park and the State Highway Administration (SHA), regarding 410 ownership & maintenance, will not conclude any time soon. The city is working to split off Flower Avenue ownership issue so that we can get started with "green street" construction there.

Near-term Remedies

Before getting into the status of negotiations, I'll report that Takoma Park Public Works Director Daryl Braithwaite gives a rough estimate of $20K to $30K to patch Philadelphia Avenue between Park Avenue and Carroll Avenue. The road surface is pretty bad in many spots. I am pursuing having this work done, while we continue to seek a resolution that will lead to complete road resurfacing.

And as I reported, last week, I have asked the SHA to assess the Holly & Philadelphia intersection, for blinking reds or some other, additional traffic/safety measure. I expect to be told that the SHA won't take it on at this time, but you can't know without asking.

The Status of Negotiations

The last draft of the city-state memorandum of understanding (MOU), dated January 31 and based on lawyers' negotiations, leaves ownership of the land under 410 in Takoma Park incompletely determined. It works around the uncertainty by having the city grant a Perpetual Maintenance Easement, for 410, to the state. The easement would say that the state may maintain city-owned portions of 410, whatever stretches those may be. (They could be every part from Montgomery College to NH Avenue except where Philadelphia parallels Old Philadelphia). I see no drawbacks to the easement.

The issue is that the state is asking to city to abandon any significant role in maintenance, sign, signal, crosswalk, stormwater standards and decisions. The draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) says the state will give the city notice of sign, signal, and crosswalk plans. The city will be given opportunity to comment, but the draft MOU doesn't say the state has to acknowledge our comments, much less do anything in response to them. For stormwater work and sidewalk installations, it doesn't even say that the city must be given notice and allowed to comment!

It is very strange that the lawyer-negotiated draft MOU grants the city far less say in permitting than did an April 12, 2011 letter from SHA Administrator Neil Pedersen. Compare paragraph (6), in particular, to Section IV of the draft MOU.

On one further point, sidewalks --

A few years ago, the city had a plan to take privately-owned land to put a second sidewalk on Ethan Allen. Residents' objections killed that plan. Were the state to decide that a sidewalk is needed along that stretch of 410, the state wouldn't even have to consult the city, according to the draft MOU.

As always, please let me know if you have questions or concerns that I can address.

May 14, 2012: The city budget, taxes, and the Environment & Safe Roadways Committees

The May 14, 2012 city-council meeting will cover several topics that will interest many Ward 1 residents. Please see the background material, including draft ordinances and resolutions, on the city Web site.

First up, following the public, council, and city manager comment periods, will be discussion and first-reading vote of an ordinance setting the the city's tax rates for fiscal year 2013, which starts July 1. The second of two required readings will be held in a week. The real property tax rate remains $.58 per $100 of taxable assessed value, up from the "constant-yield rate" of $.5715. The constant-yield rate is the rate that would generate the same tax revenues as were generated the previous year.

The council is increasing the Railroad and Public Utilities tax rate to $1.57 per $100 of assessed value and the Personal Property rate, paid by businesses on computers, equipment, furniture, and inventories, to $1.55 per $100 of assessed value. These increases are designed to increase the proportion of revenues from businesses to earlier years' proportions. (The assessed value, for these two taxes, is 40% of the estimated full value. 40% of the $1.55 per $100 40%-assessed value PPT rate is a rate of $.602 per $100 full value, compared to $.58/$100 real-property tax rate paid by real-estate owners.) I opposed this latter increase because I think it places an undue burden on the many Takoma Park small businesses.

The council will discuss and vote a First Reading Ordinance Adopting the FY2013 Budget. This ordinance reflects adjustments, made by the council to the city manager's proposed budget. The adjustments include increased funding for progress on Takoma Junction revitalization, contingent funding for demolition of the deteriorated house at 36 Philadelphia Avenue (should the city seek demolition), increased Emergency Assistance Program funding for property-tax assistance, and city Mission Serve funding to help lower-income homeowners with housing repairs.

And the council will consider revival of the Environment & Safe Roadways Committees, which are not currently operating, but are mandated by city code. The council is moving toward retaining the committees, with updated mandates, and would seek to make appointments in the coming months. The SRC would work to "advise and assist the Council with respect to developing and implementing policies to increase transportation safety and accessibility in Takoma Park, especially for walkers, bicyclists, and transit riders." The EC would "serve in an official advisory and coordination role for the City Council on all matters related to environmental sustainabi1ity, environmental protection, and restoration."

If you have thoughts on these or other issues to be considered by the council, please let me know, or come out to the council meeting to have your say.

Thanks!