Sunday, April 12, 2020

Takoma Park's city budget: What would you give up?

My neighbor and former Takoma Park Councilmember Jim Douglas asks a good question, What would you give up in city services and expenditures? The context is concerns about city revenues and evolving needs in light of the Covid-19 crisis, a topic I addressed a few weeks back.

Three thoughts:

1. I would ask the city manager to develop alternatives: If you had to cut 2%, 5%, or 10% of FY21 expenses, what are our alternatives? Her response would provide the foundation for informed discussion.

2. We talk about data-driven government. What do the numbers say? Here's an example: Takoma Park crime numbers have trended down over 10 years, from 739 crimes in 2008 to 483 last year, in 2019, matching national trends. See https://takomaparkmd.gov/government/police/crime-statistics/. That's 1 1/3 crimes per day on average and one violent crime every three days.

This trend hasn't been affected by understaffing. For instance, we were understaffed much of last year. The police chief reported back in October 2019, "We are currently at 36 out of 43 sworn." So can we safely cut police numbers? It's worth discussing.

The city manager's proposed FY21 budget adds one police officer to the Operations Division. We've gotten along fine, safety-wise, without that officer. So not only should we evaluate cuts; we should stem additions.

3. We've been through this before. In 2010 or 2011, given revenue pressure, the city eliminated 3 or 4 positions. One was the communications manager, which I remember because I used to interact with the person who was let go. I don't recall that those reductions had much impact on city operations. I don't even remember what other positions were cut or whether they were later restored although the comms manager was. Those decade-ago cuts could suggest cuts to consider now.

Finally, residents' input is important. In 2011, former Mayor Bruce Williams initiated the Takoma Park Budget Game, given the expectation that year that we'd be losing $1 million in intergovernmental revenue. Fortunately that loss didn't pan out, but check out the archive of the Budget Game site: https://web.archive.org/web/20110926110010/http://www.tpbudgetgame.org/.

So what are your thoughts? Send your comments to the city council at any time, and use the online forms to comment at the April 15 council meeting in particular: https://takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/meetings-and-documents/.

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