Monday, March 23, 2020

Redirection of city spending and FY21 budget planning in light of the covid-19 crisis

I wrote Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart and her City Council colleagues, regarding redirection of city spending and FY21 budget planning in light of the covid-19 crisis. Here's the text I sent today, March 23, 2020: Mayor, Councilmembers,

We as a community are looking at difficult times ahead. City spending -- current and planned for FY21 -- should reflect the unforeseen difficulties that will be faced by Takoma Park residents and businesses, altered demand for city services, and the likelihood that both city revenues and intergovernmental funding will take major hits, with lasting effects. I respectfully suggest you consider steps that include the following:

  • Systematic assessment of the city's ability to respond to residents' health, food security, and housing security needs, working with the county and state and local nonprofits.
  • Suspension of capital projects that are not substantially underway or required for public health or safety reasons.
  • Deferral of all capital purchases that are not required for public health or safety reasons.
  • A freeze on hiring for nonessential positions.

Looking at the agendas for up-coming council meetings, Mayor Stewart, I suggest in particular that you defer the authorization of a contract with RR/MM Lukmire Architects for library-renovation design work and award of a contract for a replacement recreation department bus.

I further suggest that the city postpone sidewalk installation and replacement work not already underway as well as rework of the police office space, which I believe hasn't started. Those are examples; I haven't reviewed the city's FY20 budget to see what other purchases and capital projects are pending. I'm sure there are other capital projects that can be put off.

City income tax revenues will likely take a big hit this year. Property-tax revenues could decrease after the next assessment cycle, and there'll be understandable pressure to lower the tax rate for FY21, which starts July 1, 2020. The city could lose anticipated intergovernmental revenues, from the county and state, in FY21.

It would be prudent to suspend nonessential city spending now, redirecting resources to residents and businesses who most need the city's help, and in the coming months, you'll want to rethink how the city will deliver services -- the Rec Department in particular and also the Library -- now, this summer, in the fall, and in the first half of 2021.

Sincerely,

Seth Grimes