I've tried to keep learning as much as I can about Takoma Park while serving on City Council, but sometimes I wish information was more accessible. For example, this information about demographics from the U.S. Census.
Since 2000, Takoma Park has been a 'majority minority' community. The 2010 census shows that more than 30% of our residents are born overseas, 60% of whom are not (or not yet) U.S. citizens. Almost half of foreign-born residents arrived in the U.S. just since 2000. In Takoma Park, 45% of businesses are Hispanic- or black-owned (20% higher than the rest of the county). Half our population lives in rental housing - 50% of those homes are covered by the city's rent control policies and another 40% are managed by an affordable housing provider. One-third of our population lives alone.
Takoma Park is going through a baby boom - one-third of homes include a child or teenager under 18. One in four residents are under the age of 18 and another one in five are between the ages of 18-35. Although they make up 21% of our population, 18-35 year olds were only 7% of all city voters in 2011. The chart below shows the city's age distribution from the latest census in green and the age of voters from the most recent city election (2011) in purple.
I wanted to provide a little more context for my proposal to lower the Equipment Replacement Reserve allocation and also do some research to better understand this and other reserve funds. The attached picture was built from the reserve funds table from all of the budget documents available from 2005 to present. If I have gotten anything wrong I'd welcome figuring out the right answer.
The x axis on the graph are budget years from 2005-2014.
I collected 'projected' data from the actual budget document in the year it was proposed. I collected 'actual' data from the General Fund Balance Projection Detail Table. (For example, page 15 on this year's budget). For example, this year our projected ERR deletion is $685,742 and the 2013 actual ERR deletion is $361,220. If you look back at the 2013 budget, the 'projected' 2013 ERR deletion is $309,400 ( page 29 here; this is the only year where actual ERR spending seems to be even slightly above projected)
RED LINES: The red lines show the projected spending in each year's budget and then, looking at newer budgets, the actual spending. What it shows is that spending stays within and a little below budget and that there is really very little growth from year to year in ERR spending (i.e. it bounces around from $300-$700k). This is the equipment we plan to buy and then actually buy.
BLUE LINE: Meanwhile, the blue line shows that we have been adding 38% more to the reserve each year, from $100,000 in 2005 to $1.3 million today.
GREEN: The green lines show the projected balance and then the actual balance which has so far always been greater than the budget projection. Perhaps this is because the money is earning interest in addition to actual spending not quite equally projected spending.
FORKS IN THE LINES: At the end of the green line, I show what the projected balance would be if we dropped our deposit into the reserve from $1.3 m to $900k (this would still be the 3rd biggest deposit of all time). The result is that we still would have a significantly growing balance in our ERR.
If ERR were really a rainy day fund, set up to deal with some catastrophic future loss of all our equipment, perhaps this ever growing balance would be necessary, but that is not my understanding of the fund. My understanding is that it is for reasonably predictable replacements of equipment over a 30 year period. I believe we are putting too much funding aside into this fund which in turn has a consequence to our unreserved general fund balance and our ability to deal with other goals for services for residents today (or reducing taxes).
We could still take a very cautious approach. For example, if we chose to keep in this fund a balance that was equal to 3 future years of expected need, that would only be $1.9 million (using data from item E from the supplemental material we got last night) . As it is right now, we are expected at FY2014 year's end to hold a balance in this fund equivalent to 5 years of future equipment needs, even if we made no additional deposit. In modest contrast, the proposal we have on reconciliation still allows us to keep more than 4 years of future equipment replacement funding available.
On Monday I plan to propose (or second or vote for) a proposal to lower our contribution to the ERR by $400,000. This still leaves a deposit of $900,000 which is greater than what we expect to spend and would make for the 4th largest deposit ever to this fund. But I also plan to ask as part of reconciliation for Council to set a goal for this fund of keeping a balance that is equal to at least 4 times the expected equipment replacement needs. I think that is conservative enough in giving us a very large cushion to deal with future ups and downs in expected equipment costs. I expect this is just a policy issue that Council has not taken the time to address before but I think it would be a good time to do so.
Your comments are welcome on these suggestions. Many are tough choices, and your feedback will help me evaluate these or different options.
Reduce staff increases from 5+ new positions to 3. My preference is the following (but note that some CityTV function could still be covered by part-time contract work (as they are now) so the reduction in TV service would not be as great)
I'd propose this additional $430,000 in savings
- No 50% position for police emergency planning (that position was covered last year but the Chief would instead like to use it to increase dispatch capacity).
- 1 new position instead of 1.16 positions for the library (more staff hours are needed because of the Sunday library hours) Further savings could come from the library being open only on Sundays outside of summer.
- 1 new position instead of 2 positions in CityTV even though that means we won't be able to tape and run the lights for as many community functions in the big room in the city building (which is the principle use of these positions)
- 1 new position instead of 2 in the recreation department
- Add 1/2 time sustainability specialist to the list
I would factor in additional revenue to the speed camera fund (because of new cameras)Changes like these could create the space to provide the $650,000 in tax relief as well as support additional initiatives that are important to residents and that other Councilmembers are likely to propose.
- Reducing Public Art from $20,000 to $10,000
- Reducing a 'Paper Streets' project from $20,000 to $5,000
- Save costs by reducing the number of phones for city staff (currently 160 desk phones and 130 cell phones and 200 voicemail accounts for 157 positions)
- Lower computer equipment costs by changing replacement cycle from 4 to 5 years
- Cut either the $20K for IT 'visioning' or the $20K for library visioning (and do the other project in the following year)
- $400,000 reduction in the Equipment Replacement Fund (still adding $900,000 and seeing a projected growth in the balance)
- Add $10K to digitize more old city files so records are accessible to residents
- Add $5K for a Communications contract to have staff work with a consultant to see if there are creative ways to use our Cable Franchise surplus equipment funds to create more transparency
Staffing is proposed to rise to the highest level (I think) ever, with 157.6 positions (FTEs) proposed. In 08-10 we had approximately 154 positions so its not a dramatic change but I am concerned that the growth is in CityTV ( 2 positions and 54% increase in wage costs) and not with the addition of a sustainability specialist as we have heard from many members of the community about the need for the latter (and no feedback I am aware of about the former). I do support the proposed city position to work on community issues, in particular aging in place issues. This graph shows the change in staff positions, using 2005 as a baseline (and counting Speed Camera positions as part of the police department which they are).
Speed camera revenues are expected to be dramatically lower, in part because cameras at New Hampshire and Carroll will be affected by the bridge projects. In addition, the budget factors in no new revenue from the 'safe speed' zones approved by Council for University and the northern reach of New Hampshire. This may be overly conservative. A different way to approach it would be to assume that these two cameras would be active for 50% of the fiscal year and would earn revenue equal to the lowest revenue camera in the city.
Property valuation throughout the city decreased by $72 million (3.6%) which, if the tax rate is left the same, will result in a decrease of $276,000 in property tax revenue from last year. No increase in the city's property tax rate is proposed in the draft budget so the City's taxation of residents is not proposed to increase but that doesn't mean that the County might not increase the tax rate for the County budget (over which we have no control).
In FY13, Council planned to begin the year with $8.43 million in the general fund and end with $8.9 million. Instead, we expect to end FY13 with $10.6 million. This is the $1.6 million 'surplus' that you remember from earlier council discussion and my updates. Former Councilmember Snipper often raised questions about how much General fund balance we need to carry from year to year. The current draft budget proposes ending our year with an $8.7 million balance. I believe that would be unfair to you, with whom we discussed and generally agreed we should provide some form of rebate based on that surplus. We found out that we cannot provide a rebate (a state Attorney General opinion I provided a few months ago) but we could lower the tax rate. One option would be to lower the tax rate so that we end up with a General Fund balance where we began FY13 - i.e. $8.32 million. That would allow us to provide property tax relief of approximately $410,000.
Related to the above, the draft budget proposes putting $1.3 million into an equipment replacement reserve (for example, a rainy day fund to use to replace police cars, or trash trucks, etc.) Doing so would grow the expected balance of this fund by approximately $600,000. By putting a smaller amount into that reserve, we could potential put more money into paying down remaining city debt, reducing unfunded pension liabilities or providing more property tax relief or for other purposes.
Many residents have spoken to Council about sustainability initiative over the last few years. Rather than seeing an increase in the sustainability budget in the year when we will have a sustainability action plan from our consultant, Brendle Group, the budget proposes to drop sustainability support to $190,000. I do not support this.
The budget includes slightly increased funding for grants, continued support for home repair assistance for lower income residents, property tax relief assistance for lower income residents, support for festivals, July 4th celebration, Crossroads Community Food Network, and $100,000 of additional pension fund contributions to reduce our pension liabilities.
The current draft and many past budget documents can be found on this page. Comments to me and your testimony on Monday would be extremely welcome.
I wanted to give you a sense of some of the most important projects in Ward 2 that are covered by the budget and that may be particularly important to you.
Sidewalk projects on 7300 block of Jackson Avenue (construction will begin by June), 7500 block of Jackson Avenue (construction funding proposed), sidewalk design funding for 400 block of Boyd Ave, and construction funds for traffic calming work on Prince Georges Avenue as requested by neighborhood.
TENTATIVE repaving of streets at: Boyd (between Aspen and Lincoln), Elm (between Woodland and PG Ave), Larch (between NH Ave and Glaizewood), and Prince Georges (between Belford Pl and NH Ave). Streets are identified for repaving if the quality of existing pavement is below a certain score assigned by our engineer. Some of these projects still might not happen (for example if WSSC or other construction is planned there) but the low scores indicate that if not this year, they will remain a very high priority in future years.
IN LONG BRANCH SLIGO, are funds for raised crosswalks at Flower and Jackson and planning/design funding to change the intersection of Flower with Sligo Creek Parkway in ways that will make more of a T-intersection and slow cars traveling from one street to the other. Both projects were requests of the neighborhood. Note, I encourage advocacy from residents if you want to also see construction funds for the Parkway/Flower project in the budget.
Kitchen compost program does not have specific funding but it could come from (proposed lower) sustainability budget. Larger recycling bin pilot does not have specific funding, but could come from (proposed lower) sustainability budget. Residents are recycling an average of more than 10 lbs per week (which reduces our trash 'tipping' fees).
The following are quotes from academic and others interested in this proposals around the world. I've included the link to the letter from which these quotes are taken and these letters should also be part of the record provided to the public by the City Clerk. For most of these quotes, if you click on the person's name, you can see the full letter sent to City Council."I support the proposal to lower the voting age to 16 for Takoma Park. I believe that it is very reasonable for 16 year olds to become educated about the affairs of the City government and to cast an informed vote. Based on my personal experience in the youth voting sector (Rock the Vote political director, Obama 08 youth vote director), I would expect that these teens will come largely, if almost exclusively, from households where the parents are also active voters in Takoma Park elections." -- Hans Riemer At-large member, Montgomery County Council-----
"We hope that you will consider all of the passionate young people who help make Takoma Park a better place. Please offer them not only a vote, but a voice, in your municipal elections to come." The Montgomery County Students' Coalition
-----"The existing evidence from Austria shows that voters aged 16 or 17 have higher turnout levels than other first-time voters.... Moreover, we also have evidence that lowering voting age has increased interest in politics substantially among voters under 18." Dr. Markus Wagner and Dr. Eva Zeglovits, University of Vienna, Austria
-----"Research shows that voting is habitual, so promoting the turnout of 16 and 17-year-olds should increase participation for decades to come." Dr. Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and Dr. Peter Levine, Tufts University Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
-----"Young people in Norway, and especially first-time-voters, have the lowest election turnout of all age-groups. A key question in the pilot, therefore, was whether 16- and 17-year-olds would turn out to vote in the election. We have information about actual election turnout in different age groups, and have found that 16- and 17-year-olds participate in surprisingly high numbers." Dr. Johannes Bergh, Institute for Social Research, NorwayMarch 27, 2013 email exchange between Tim Male and Johannes , about a 20-city trial of 16-17 year old voting in Norway.
Tim Male: "One quick question. In relation to your third point (about political maturity) how much of a difference was there in the first place? I.e. do 16-17 year olds in Norway have a much different level of political maturity than 18-19 year olds?"
Professor Johannes Bergh: "There is not a large difference between 16-17 year olds and the slightly older age group. There is a small, but statistically significant and consistent difference across indicators. The difference, I believe, is real, but there certainly is not a huge gap between these age groups."
-----"Takoma Park now has an opportunity to lead the nation in taking another step. By allowing 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections, you will send a message that they, too, are welcome members of this society." Bill Bystricky, National Youth Rights Coalition-----
"Before voting age was lowered, political interest of 16 and 17 year olds was more or less a matter of their parental background (interest of parents, education of parents). However, after voting age was lowered, schools impact increased. We think, that the lowering of the voting age had the effect, that political interest or attitudes of 16- and 17year olds are no longer something private that goes on in your parents home, but that schools got the tasks of making them ready to vote." Dr. Eva Zeglovits (Professor at the University of Vienna)
I support a package of reforms that are designed to increase participation in the community through city elections. From the very beginning I must say that none of these changes are magic solutions – each will make a small contribution to the city in different way. I still believe that they are worthwhile and that success a few elections from now might look like 5-10 % higher voter registration and higher turnout in city elections. That would be a worthwhile accomplishment in making the city’s government more representative of the city’s people. Below I describe the reforms (and you can also read about Councilmember Seth Grimes’ perspectives on these issues on his blog here). The title of each is also linked to a specific blog post on that issue in which I’ve tried to include more helpful links and information and a more detailed summary of my views.
Right to Vote. In Bush v. Gore in 2000 Justice Scalia stated that ‘the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote’ but most Americans I know believe that voting is a right and responsibility we have in all levels of our democracy. Creating a framework over all the city changes being proposed, I support a resolution (pg. 29 here) that calls for all elected officials to support actions that increase voter turnout and participation, and to support efforts to even the playing field of elections in ways that reduce level the playing field among candidates for office. This part of the proposal is directed at changes that our state (or federal) elected officials could make.
Same Day Registration. Same Day or Election Day registration is a common sense change that removes a barrier to participation. It is in place across the country and in 2012 turnout in states with day of registration was 12 points higher than states without it. This change would mean that if you move, forget to register, only recently become eligible to vote, or just recently got interested in city elections, you can still represent your interests at the polls by showing up and registering at any time before voting.
Apartment Buildings. Turnout from apartment buildings in the city is probably much lower than from single family housing. We are discussing changes in the landlord-chapter of the city code to require landlords to allow some access to buildings by city-certified candidates for office and requirements that information about elections be posted in common space in apartment buildings. Maryland state law already requires apartment buildings in Montgomery County to have a public area where election materials are readily accessible to residents.
Voting Age. Changing the voting age would put Takoma Park at the forefront of a growing effort around the world to give voting rights to 16-17 year olds. Federal or state voting age has already been changed in Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua, Scotland and Austria and proposals being considered at the state or local level in California, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. Studies show that experience voting early in life helps build lifelong voting habits. Maryland law has long allowed for 17 year olds to vote for their party’s choice for President and Governor and newly allows 16-17 year olds to file voter registration paperwork. I support this Takoma Park proposal which would allow those who register at 16-17 to vote in municipal elections. Here are some letters and quotes from others about our legislative proposal.
Welcome Package. Another change under discussion is direction to the city to work with local businesses and provide a ‘welcome package’ to the city for all new residents that could provide lots of helpful information, including about voting and elections.
Task Force on Voting. The creation of a temporary Task Force on Voting (page 28 here) is meant to keep up momentum on issues of elections and participation. The Task Force would evaluate and make recommendations on other practical changes in city laws, regulations or practices that would improve participation and better uphold voting rights.
Voting Rights for People with Felony Convictions. Many nations and some states allow all citizens of voting age, including those who are incarcerated, to exercise their right to vote. Maryland in recent years has extended voting rights to more people with felony convictions, but Takoma Park can go further and provide voting rights for any city resident who has served their time and is no longer incarcerated. This site describes the states providing voting rights upon release from prison (even if still under parole). Maine and Vermont allow citizens with felony convictions to maintain voting rights, even from prison. Maryland’s approach is described here.
I will close as I opened, by saying that none of these changes are probably going to make a dramatic difference in election turnout or participation – just a significant, positive difference. A difference that will give more residents more ways to make their voices heard on city issues. Contested elections and focus on important issues that matter in people’s lives are probably most important to really get people more people more deeply involved. Thus, its my hope that we can move to adopt these changes relatively quickly and continue to make adjustments that make elections better in the future, while focusing the bulk of Council’s time and residents attention on crime and environment, development and improving quality of life for all in Takoma Park.
Same day voter registration takes away a barrier to participation in elections and has been widely adopted around the world and in the U.S. without significant problem. As shown by a recent study from VOTE turnout in states with day of registration was 12 points higher than states without it. A simpler story about that report is available on Politico. And they have found the same pattern in each of the last six national elections. Rockville does day of election registration.
You can find a basic amount of information on Election Day voter registration here on Wikipedia . Maine has been doing this for 38 years and when their legislature recently tried to create even a two-day limit, the citizens quickly overturned that change in a referendum. The director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine spoke of the ballot victory by saying, “No one will be denied a right to vote” and that is a good description of what this change in our charter would help to do. Councilmember Seth Grimes also has a post describing our proposal on his website.
In Maryland, you can find a report by the state’s Department of Legislative Services from 2008 here which describes much of the background on why this change could be beneficial. There have been efforts to make this change happen at the statewide level at least since 2008. This year, the Maryland Senate has already passed SB 279 which would make it possible to register during early voting and expands early voting days – a press release summarizing it is available here. The companion bill in the House (on which Delegate Tom Hucker is a cosponsor) is available here and you can track its progress by signing up for updates at this site. Its also supported by the Governor. Maryland will likely add this option for those voting early by 2014, but our amendment would go further and establish Same Day Registration in city elections – you could register and vote right up to Election Day. Our initiative has been endorsed by the ACLU of Maryland, Progressive Maryland and FairVote. A state bill proposing same day registration has also been introduced in Maryland.
For decades, Maryland has allowed 17-year-olds to vote in primaries for president, governor and other offices if they will be 18 by Election Day. It has been popular in both major parties. With 16 year olds already eligible to register to vote under state law, I support Takoma Park expanding suffrage in our city elections. Doing so would make this opportunity for a ‘first vote’ a special one that our community could celebrate. I want to repeat that like other changes, this is not going to suddenly create a dramatic shift in participation in the city, but rather a subtle one. I believe it’s a really important change that would recognize the legitimate voice that teens should have in our community, that would help establish lifelong voting habits, and that would extend the vote to a group that is sufficiently mature to handle the responsibility of participating in city elections.
Are they ready? You can watch a video by a Rutgers University professor on the preparedness of 16-17 year olds in the context of voting. In a separate paper Professor Daniel Hart and his coauthor conclude that “To date, there is no neurological evidence that indicates that 16- and 17-year-olds lack the requisite neurological maturation necessary for citizenship or for responsible voting; nor is there evidence to indicate that a breadth of life experience is necessary for effective citizenship.” In Austria where 16-17 year olds have been voting since 2005 in city elections and 2007 in federal ones, this factsheet summarizes the conclusions of research about the preparedness and maturity of those voters. For more depth about Austria, this study goes deeper into measures of voter ‘quality’ and concludes that 16-17 year olds are very similar to, or in some cases more competent voters than 18 year olds. In Austria, researchers also found some evidence that 16-17 year olds became even more engaged in civics after they were given the right to vote. They found that schools and parents were both very influential on turnout and preparedness (suggesting that Montgomery County’s mandatory government class is valuable).
Local elections versus national ones. In Maryland we have allowed 17 year olds to vote for President, Governor, Senators, Representative and state positions for years during the primary process.
Will teens show up? Turnout is low among young voters if you define young as up to about 30. But there is growing evidence in the U.S. and abroad that very young voters actually have high turnout and its voters in their 20s that are the least likely to vote. In Austria, Denmark and Norway election officials have found that turnout is fairly high in 16-17 year olds. Research from Denmark suggests that the youngest voters may be very high turnout voters because they are influenced by being around people who also vote (i.e. family). They found that above 18, voting rates drop off precipitously and that not until early 30s to rates of voting again start approaching those of the very youngest voters. In Lubbock, Texas, 18 year olds also vote at higher rates than older voters. I asked Dr. Kasper Hansen of the University of Copenhagen what he thought about 16-17 year old voters' likely turnout and he said, "I would expect that 16 year olds would actually vote slightly more than 18 year olds."
Done before? It’s true that the U.S. has little experience with 16-17 year old voting, but Germany, Scotland, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, Austria, and Norway have all adopted 16 year old voting ages in some or all federal or state elections. Together those democracies have a population of about 350 million –about the same size as the U.S.
Existing rights. In the U.S., efforts have been made or are underway to give 16 and 17 year olds voting rights in California, Minnesota and Massachusetts. Already more than a dozen states, including Maryland, allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries for their highest offices if they will be 18 by the general election. Voter approved that change by landslide margins when voting to change state constitutions in Vermont in 2010 and Connecticut in 2008, Given that Maryland law already allows 16-year-old to register to vote, Takoma Park would easily be able to administer this change.
In Bush v. Gore in 2000 Justice Scalia stated that ‘the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote’ but most Americans I know believe that voting is a right and responsibility we have in all levels of our democracy. In his State of the Union address President Obama called it a God-given right.
In the City Council, we are pursuing a set of subtle reforms but also creating a framework over all the city changes being proposed – which is a resolution calling for a ‘right to vote’ and for changes at the federal level that will make our elections more representative. I support this resolution (pg. 29 here) that calls for all elected officials to take action to increase voter turnout and participation, and to make efforts to level the playing field among candidates for office. For example, we encourage the State of Maryland to think about adopting our system of instant runoff voting. We encourage Congress to support a right to vote. Indeed, our State Senator Jamie Raskin has called for a Constitutional amendment affirming the right to vote.
The creation of a temporary Task Force on Voting (page 28 here) in conjunction with some new activities for the city’s Election Commission are meant to keep up momentum on issues of elections and participation that continue work to improve city elections. The Task Force would evaluate and make recommendations on practical changes in city laws, regulations or practices that would improve participation and better uphold voting rights. For example, the City of Rockville just had a task force that finished its work on similar ideas – they recommended the City of Rockville move its elections to match state/federal ones, create four year terms of office, have a council as big as Takoma Park’s, and make recommendations on weekend voting, early voting and voting by mail.
Changes to our elections don’t have to be disruptive or difficult – Takoma Park has a long history of thinking about these issues and acting to improve participation in democracy. I believe this framework, call for national and state action and Task Force are helpful steps to keep making progress in that direction.