The process of applying for and interviewing with County Council was a wonderful chance to learn more about County issues and to encourage progress by the County on some issues that I think are important to City residents. Below is part of the prepared text I used in some of my answers.
Three most important issues and things you would add to it:
Passing the 2015 budget, White Oak master plan, and the zoning code rewrite are three of the issues that I think will be most important for this Council and for District 5.
I’ve been through two budget processes at the city scale - i.e. much smaller - that require understanding debt, infrastructure needs, salary and pension issues and measuring the demand for services from residents. I think the County could do more to create a simpler and clearer set of performance metrics that reflect levels of service and quality of life in the county and I'd like to see a stronger emphasis on that in the budget
A specific issue I would add is the opportunity to review and evaluate the school superintendents' CIP and County Executive's capital budget, including school capital projects. We face a real challenge with the past and projected growth of our school population. Just keeping up with that growth is a huge challenge, but I'd want to bring a special focus on the school infrastructure in District 5. For example, I want to understand better why less than 2 percent of the school-specific CIP budget for construction this year is proposed in Districts 4 and 5 in Executive Leggett's CIP proposal. I recognize that much important spending and projects are elsewhere in the proposal, but I'm particularly interested in the problem of overcrowding in the downcounty cluster schools like Forest Knolls and Rolling Terrace. I very much appreciate the follow up that Councilmember Ervin and her staff put into the mold issues and overcrowding at Rolling Terrace Elementary and I would continue to prioritize that work to try and convince you, my colleagues, that we need some faster investments in expansion and dedicated HVAC work in these and other downcounty and northeast consortium schools that are over capacity by 100-200 students and face problems that are not going to be solved by simply moving students around within a cluster of schools, almost all of which are overcapacity.
Balancing development and environmental protection. What factors would you look at for balance?
The safe political answer is to say that it can always be a win-win but I know that is really hard to achieve. There is almost always a cost in everything governments have to decide. That has been my experience on a city council and I expect that is the experience you have here. The factors I would try to look at concern how development impacts the quality of life of the people in the broad area affected by a development. Quality of life is services, jobs, home prices, and also open space, recreation, traffic, safety, future school construction needs and so many other factors. In general, its more costly to provide infrastructure and services per capita in low density residential areas than high density or urbanized ones. I would generally favor actions that encouraging more development and redevelopment in the areas that already have some of the densest population and infrastructure.
But Clearly, one part of this question is about the Clarksburg plan and ten-mile creek. From my understanding of the issue, I don't see how the Council ends up not needing to make some more adjustments to the current plan revision to reduce the foot print of development closest to critical parts of the watershed. I still believe much of the development planned should go forward and that amendments proposed already by the planning board are a big step in the right direction but I would want to work with staff, all of you and as well as constituents to better understand if there are options that could provide better protection to our drinking water, a fair return for developers on their investments and more of the growth that residents of Clarksburg want. I cannot imagine that there are not still more compromises that could be reached,even if no one is initially that is not going to make people happy.
Is the current Maintenance of Effort (MOE) fair in terms of state requirements for how much the county spends on schools?
Basically, I think the state-directed changes in how MOE is calculated was a blunt way to get at an important goal, but it does so at the cost of discouraging this and other counties from making any investment above the MOE level because the county will be penalized for doing so. I assume that a real solution to MOE will take years to resolve and that there will need to be an effort to find common ground between state legislators, unions and counties throughout the state.. In keeping with your question, Councilmember Andrews, the highest priority would seem to be to address the disincentive put into state law in 2012, that penalizes the county for higher investments. An ambitious solution would be to allow counties to 'bank' above MOE investments and count those toward meeting MOE in future years -that would encourage counties to make proactive, sometimes one-time big investments in school funding. A less ambitous solution could be to just keep MOE pegged to the MOE in the previous year, regardless of whether the county budget exceeds MOE in some years. That change would also encourage investments in education by this Council and take away the state penalty for doing so. A third option would be to make waivers easier or perhaps find a way to work out a two-year waiver process to make it possible to carry out the county's budgeting process with more predictability.
Pay raises for county staff - would you have done that?
I support raises to county staff salaries given the sacrifices staff have made through the past economic downtown but I would have tried to do something more in keeping with the rate of pay increases in the region, in our federal government and in our businesses. I would have preferred to see a more gradual rate of increase. In making such an increase, I think it would have also been important to focus on the lowest paid employees of the county - people who are, for example, below the living wage for a single parent like bus drivers and security guards.
General remarks about the White Oak/Fairland/Science gateway master plan?
In the White Oak area, there is a lot the Council and Planning Board can do to impose transportation infrastructure changes that would minimize traffic and congestion on Columbia Pike... but no matter what, there will be more traffic and impacts on residents, especially those down the pike. More jobs and services in the White Oak area. I understand why the planning board recommends changing the goalposts as the way to get the balance needed between development and congestion. The traffic goals are simply impossible to achieve which is why reality has never come close to achieving them. Ultimately, I support the planning board's recommendation because development, services and jobs are so important in this part of the county. I would also support the planning boards recommendation that fees from White Oak developments be dedicated to bus rapid transit and other transit funding. A premise of the revision is that allowing more development and thus more congestion now is going to be followed by investments to reduce those congestion costs later. Council action to set aside such funds would be more than a good faith effort to uphold that promise.
While knocking on doors during the election campaign, I indicated to many of you that I hoped to have a conversation over the next two years about development and the long-term future of the city. The quality of our schools should be a big part of this discussion.
One in three homes in Takoma Park include young children and Maryland's schools are among the best in the country. We currently have 2,008 children in Takoma Park Middle School, Elementary School and Piney Branch Elementary School and another 850 in Rolling Terrace Elementary. The Middle School is overcapacity today and projected to stay that way through 2018. Rolling Terrace170 more students today than its capacity of 672 students. Takoma Park Elementary is overcapacity and projected to stay that way for at least 2 more years.
During an earlier discussion about redevelopment along New Hampshire Avenue and University Avenue, especially associated with the Purple Line, I asked City staff for some hypothetical projections of what our school population would look like if residential development were fully built out as envisioned in the Takoma Langley Crossroads Sector Plan. I've attached the document provided by our staff here - it is full of interesting information.
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|File Type: || docx|City staff estimate that full construction of projected residential space envisioned under the plan would create housing for more than 6,200 new residents, including 900 more K-12 students. Obviously that is just a projection and reality never quite comes out that way. But given the school crowding we already have, where would even another 200 students go?
For me, our past County Councils have been too focused on development as simply more dense buildings, and not enough on quality of life issues like schools and traffic. I've also heard others express criticism of the County Council for investing far more in building new and improving old schools in the upper and western parts of the County and less down here. I'd like to see us get more investments in school construction before NH Avenue or University Avenue projects start breaking ground. Especially since many of our schools are already beyond their capacity.
Are there ways to get more development (like the construction of the new transit center on University Ave and nearby services) including some more housing without creating worse traffic and school crowding? I hope we can find ways to do so.... and that you will join me in asking candidates who want to be part of our County Council how they are going to deal with questions like these. Concrete answers rather than simplistic statements like 'transit-smart mixed use development' are at least part of what I hope to hear about from candidates.
*note, these school enrollment statistics are approximate; I've found slightly varying numbers in County, city and online resources.
I guess I've always thought that the First Amendment of our Constitution prohibiting the establishment of or preference for a particular religion by our government would result in a physical separation of church and state.
Thus, I really find myself having a problem with the City's recent decision to sign an 18-month lease with a Silver Spring Baptist church which will perform Sunday services in the auditorium where City Council meetings are held. I'm just being honest in saying that it makes me uncomfortable and I cannot help thinking of what it would like if, in small communities across America, city hall after city hall were occupied by religious services every Sunday.
Let me provide more details....
Our City Hall - the municipal building on Maple Avenue - includes many spaces that are used by the community including the library, art rooms, meeting rooms, the auditorium where City Council meets, a teen room, a game room and so on. Some events are one-time performances or talks. Other times rooms are reserved for months on end. Sometimes reservations are made without fees and at other times the city charges fees for the use of rooms. The process to secure use of rooms is managed by staff, not Council, although we occasionally receive requests to support events.
A Baptist church in Silver Spring needed a space in which to hold Sunday services (while their church is being rebuilt) and somehow made a connection with the city concerning the City Council auditorium. Over many months, staff have been discussing lease arrangements with the church. I and the rest of Council learned about it almost by accident last month. The lease would begin in December 2013 and continue for 18 months, with the possibility of a 6-month extension after that if the church's building still isn't ready for occupancy.
The City will be opening the Municipal Building up early to accommodate the church and charge an hourly rate for the employee that opens the building and staffs the administrative desk as well as a second staff person who will stay in the auditorium. Presumably this means the employee will be present in the room with the religious services. The church will be allowed to place small ('sandwich board') signs at the front and back of the building before and during services.
My greater concerns about this lease are more process and 'Takoma first' issues. To my knowledge, there was no 'call for proposals' or other indication that city hall was available for lease for extended periods on any day, making Takoma Park groups aware that such an opportunity might exist. I don't believe any Takoma Park churches - or other groups - had knowledge that such an option existed for them. For example, I have difficulty finding any information on the city's website indicating I could rent a room for any period of time or lease one for months on end (our regulations indicate a shorter limit). And in fact And I don't believe we built our community center to provide service to non-Takoma Park organizations first, even if it does create a profit for the city government. I don't doubt that our City staff have been following our regulations and ordinances in moving through this process, but I somehow doubt when people developed City Regulation 2011-11 they were thinking of an 18 month rental to a non-Takoma Park church.
On the separation of church and state issue, I know there is a balance between the protection of free speech, equal treatment protections and the Establishment clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. For me, its very difficult to see whether we are getting the balance right with this issue. It looks as though federal courts have issued different opinions on the use of public facilities for religious services and the Constitutionality of those arrangements, but I'm not aware of any of those cases involving the very building and room where local government convenes. I've talked to Constitutional law experts and religious leaders about this whole set of issues. I worry that this lease leaves us in the position of having to defend ourselves on perhaps precedent setting (and costly) litigation. And I wish we were not taking on that risk.
I'd really welcome your thoughts. At this point the lease has been moved forward by the City Manager and its completely within his power to do so. But I do wonder if we want to make any changes in our facilities rental policies and would welcome your input to bet
As many of you know, the Adventist Hospital has been trying to move to a new location in White Oak where they would construct a new hospital. To do so, they first need to seek the approval of a Maryland state committee. Their last application was not successful but you can find the new application they recently submitted here. One of the most important questions concerns what will happen to the existing hospital when they move. Their application describes this in some detail. The major points are as follows:
Over the next 3 years while a new hospital is being built, operations would continue like today with relatively little significant investment in current infrastructure beyond maintaining services.
After 3 years, the hospital would 'move in' to White Oak and renovations on Takoma Park buildings would begin and would cover the following uses:
Initial concerns I have include the lower investment in this hospital for the next three years, whether the hospital's finances would allow these budgeted renovations after building the new hospital over three years, what kind of investments the organization will make in the 24/7 urgent care facility and whether the University and leasing for doctor offices will really be able to fill available space on the site.
- A 24/7 urgent care facility would replace the emergency room
- Doctor's office space uses would continue with 28,000 sq feet of new space for this use
- 1,500 sq. ft. wound care facility would be maintained
- Psychiatric care facility would be doubled in size
- Various support services (radiology, pharmacy, lab) would be maintained
- 56,000 sq ft of space would be renovated and leased to the Washington Adventist University for classroom space
The city staff and attorney are working on a far more detailed analysis of the proposal, but I wanted to make sure to share the document and ask for your thoughts on this proposal.
I am writing to let everyone know that I am running for City Council in the election to be held on November 5th - early voting begins in 32 days.
For those of you who don't know me, I've been in Takoma Park for over 10 years and my family lives on Woodland Avenue. My son and daughter are growing up in Takoma Park schools, playing in our parks and open spaces. My full time job is as Vice President for Policy at a non-profit called Defenders of Wildlife. My wife, Winnie, works as a contractor for the State Department. I previously served on three city committees before being elected to City Council in 2011.
The last two years....
Its been fantastic to represent you over the last two years and I am proud of what the Council has been able to accomplish with your help and support. In 2011, I campaigned on three themes: enhancing the livability of our community, expanding sustainability, and improving accountability & services. Along with the day to day work of helping residents with individual challenges, I think this list includes some of the biggest successes of the community:
- Establishment of bike share program beginning this autumn
- Creation of food truck program
- Continued tax abatement projects for low income housing improvements
- New crossing guards at Takoma Junction
- Continued partnership with business association that helped recruit new restaurants
- New sidewalk construction process
- New sidewalk on Jackson Avenue Stop signs on Central Ave
- Increased funding for home repair work for lower income homeowners
- Prevention of development zoning for McLaughlin School property without more community input
- Finalized 410 agreement with State Highway Administration
- New streetscape standards to guide future New Hampshire Avenue redevelopment
ACCOUNTABILITY & SERVICES
- Expanded budget for sustainability
- Partnership with University of Maryland to find sewage leaks into Sligo Creek
- Expanded recycling efforts and composting pilot
- Restrictions on lawn pesticides that will benefit our health
- Near completion of a sustainability and energy action plan accountability & services
- Made it easier to register to vote and vote early
- First reduction in city property tax rate in many years
- Lowered voting age
- Expanded opportunities for apartment residents to interact with political candidates
- Expanded community grants
- Restored voted rights to people with felony convictions
- Established Sunday library hours
The next two years....
I am running again for election and hope I can earn your vote on Tuesday, November 5th. I've attached a link to a 2-page description of what I hope to work on with you over the next two years. This includes:
CONTINUING TO IMPROVE QUALITY OF LIFE
EXPANDING THE SUSTAINABILITY OF THE COMMUNITY
- Starting a conversation about what we want the city to look like in the future in terms of how much development, where and of what type.
- Prioritizing projects already in planning that will reduce the volume and speed of traffic on our roads and projects that enhance pedestrian safety.
- Expanding restaurants and other services residents have asked for.
- Continue work with the Adventist Hospital to keep urgent care services and other medical services on the site when the main hospital moves to White Oak.
IMPROVING ACCOUNTABILITY AND SERVICES
- Its important to implement new lawn pesticide restrictions effectively and fairly
- We need to continue to pressure WSSC (the were company) to fix pollution leaks that flow into Sligo Creek
- Adopting and implementing new energy saving programs that will save residents money and reduce energy use
- Continuing work with the new City Manager to provide more data and metrics to you on the strengths and weaknesses of city services.
- Working toward a long term solution on tax duplication so that the county keeps less of the money you pay in taxes for services the city actually provides.
I hope to be campaigning in your neighborhood soon and welcome any conversation about these ideas or your priorities for the Council - and how I can help. You can reach me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone (240) 274-0341 or through my website (www.timmale.com). Please get in touch to talk - I'd be happy to schedule a visit, organize a house party or get your help in the campaign. Please signup for my email list here.
Takoma Park's nominating caucus is at 7:30 pm on Tuesday in the Community Center Auditorium. I hope you can come and if any of you are interesting in helping provide the nomination, please call me this weekend!
Thanks so much for all the great successes we've had together over the last two years. I appreciate all the time you spend making Takoma Park a better place. Every effort I've been part of on Council has only been possible because so many of you were did much of the work to make it happen.
Takoma Park’s proposed Safe Grow ordinance would limit the use of some pesticides on public and private lawns in the city, while not affecting their use to control poison ivy, poison sumac, kudzu, honeysuckle, bamboo, and other noxious weeds. The law would phase in over 2 years and would also not affect use of pesticides on trees, bushes or in gardens. Listening to the comments of both supporters and opponents of the current draft, the following revisions have been proposed that I believe are responsive to requests we have had. I believe these changes will make the ordinance more effective.
- The precautionary principle definition used previously has been criticized as too far reaching – the revisions propose using a definition that has been signed off on by former President Bill Clinton and endorsed by the American Public Health Association, the largest association of public health professionals in the world. We’ve heard criticisms that the City has to prove there is a problem first, by documenting exactly how much of each pesticide is used and how much harm they cause. That is the very point of the precautionary principle. More than 400 residents have signed a petition indicating they think pesticides are a major health concern. We know that EPA has to weigh economic benefits of higher crop production against health concerns when they decide whether to approve (or take away the approval of) a pesticide. The Council and the community have the opportunity to decide what level of risk we want to take, but the very point of the precautionary principle is that we don’t have to wait for definitive and exhaustive scientific evidence before acting to protect the health of residents.
Environment Committee Response
- The draft Environment Committee report asks us to provide information about EPA's minimum risk pesticides - revisions add that as part of the information that the city should provide to the community.
- An earlier draft Environment Committee report identified additional compounds for addition to the list of restricted pesticides and those pesticides have been added to the restricted list in the draft ordinance. For example, the herbicide MCPP.
Keeping the City from Having to Become Pesticide Experts
- We've heard criticisms that the draft puts the city in the place of having to become expert in pesticides. Proposed changes eliminate the ability of the city manager to add pesticides to the restricted list (future changes would have to be made by Council). The City Manager never needs to become expert in pesticides with this change to the draft.
Using Best Science
- There has been criticism that we are not taking advantage of EPA and other expertise already at work to identify high risk pesticides. Revisions address that by making our list inclusive of the best agency scientists have to offer. Specifically, three very carefully defined and long-standing lists of pesticides are added to the proposed registry. EPA's lists of Likely Carcinogens and Restricted Use Products and the European Commission's list of Category 1 Endocrine Disruptors. If agencies change (i.e. add to) these lists then that 'best science' would automatically become part of our list. While the draft Environment Committee report indicated that these lists are often out of date and too slow to be amended to reflect new science, the approach proposed combines the best of both worlds - Council starts with a list of 20 substances and the agency lists that will evolve over time.
Better Protecting Public Health
- We've heard concerns that these limits don't go far enough - that too many pesticides are still allowed in our community. As mentioned in the previous bullet, we've added a number of other chemicals identified by the Environment Committee draft report or as a risk by scientific experts at EPA and the European Commission pesticide authority.
- In addition, without restricting use, revisions proposed create new notification requirements that would now apply to ALL pesticides applied to lawns for cosmetic purposes. The simple act of requiring people to put up a sign is easy to do but will likely make people think slightly more carefully about what they are applying and why. It also helps address the question of how common pesticide application is in our community. It will allow future Councils and the community to have more information about pesticide use on which to base any decisions that arise in the future.
How to Apply this to Commercial Applicators of Pesticides
- We've heard a request for commercial applicators to be treated differently. I think doing so is a mistake. These businesses are trained to use pesticides whereas average residents are not.
- However, I think there is value in separating commercial applicators out from property owners/tenants and the revisions propose a section just for commercial applicators. Revisions propose moving 1 year forward the date at which restrictions start applying to commercial applicators. I think this is important for two reasons. First, there are fewer of commercial operators and educational outreach about the law should be easier - they are professionals after all. Second, by creating a restriction on commercial application one year in advance it allows us to a) collect data on pesticide use and b) have the commercial applicators become part of the education effort. How? Because for 1 year they will be visiting homes and explaining to residents what they will use, why they are using different chemicals and of course posting notices about what they are doing. That is a wide-reaching and visible education campaign in and of itself.
Application to Property Owners and Tenants
- A separate section is addressed to property owners and tenants. The date restrictions are one year later than for commercial applicators - approximately 2 years from now - giving a long time for education to work before any fines would be levied.
Making it Enforceable
- I think a goal of most public policy efforts is to make enforcement something that is rarely needed. For example, City Code establishing recycling makes failure to recycle a Class D infraction ($100-$200 fine), but fines are rare because most people recycle willingly today. Revisions to the ordinance describe educational efforts in more detail and establish lengthy periods during which only warnings would be issued for violations.
- We've heard that enforcement will be impossible or that it will pit neighbor on neighbor. Many of our policies work by involving residents. The noise ordinance. Noxious growth ordinance. Tree ordinance. Housing code violations. And many other rules. For example, unless the stump of a recently cut tree is in a front yard and visible from public property, a neighbor has to let our arborist into their yard to see a potential tree code violation in a neighbor's backyard. So the question is whether we can find a way for neighbors to provide a 'tip' to the City but then not have to be in the middle of subsequent enforcement steps.
- The revisions propose something that makes the ordinance much, much more easily enforceable without requiring much more than that 'tip' from watchful residents or city staff. New language makes it a requirement to post a notice about ANY application of a pesticide to a lawn. Thus, the violation becomes whether there is or is not a sign visible from the front of the property when spraying occurs. Like our noise ordinance where someone has to notice the noise while its occurring and complain about it, this change would require someone to see pesticides being applied to a yard and also note the absence of a sign, but then its a simple matter to either snap a picture and send it to staff or call staff and ask them to come to the property. The violation is the absence of notice.
- The revised version maintains that it is also still a violation for the spraying of a restricted pesticide. That could be documented by the evidence of a pesticide container, the willing admission of a person when asked or testimony from a neighbor, but enforcement would more often be at the posting stage. My guess is that such violations would be rare and may still be a challenge to enforce but most of the enforcement would be addressed by the far simpler posting requirement.
- We've heard complaints that we jump right to enforcement and skip education - that the ordinance focuses too much on penalties. First, those arguments are untrue. As originally proposed, the ordinance doesn’t impose any restrictions for 2 years. And educational outreach occurs for that whole time in between.
- That said, revisions add the earlier phase in of commercial restrictions (as noted above) in part as an education tool. Revisions also add more information about minimum risk pesticides as an education tool, requirements for the city to provide materials to residents one year before restrictions come into place as an education tool and posting requirements that are strengthened as an education tool.
Lowering Penalties - Making the Ordinance Less Punitive
- We've heard concerns that the ordinance is too punitive, treating generally well-meaning residents as if they were not. Revisions propose a number of changes to address this:
- There are now warning phases (as allowed by our code) for six month periods for failure to post and for applying a restricted pesticide. In other words, a violation would only result in someone getting a warning from the city.
- The fine for failing to post a notice about using a pesticide on your lawn would be small - $25-$50, less than the cost of a permit to cut down a dead tree. This is our lowest class of penalty (Class G) and I believe creates a deterrent without being overly punitive.
- Revisions propose a lower fine for a first offense of actually applying a restricted pesticide to Class D ($100) and only repeat offenses would attract up to a Class B citation ($800).
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.