Our 2012 budget left us with approximately $1.4 million in funds that were not allocated in June/July, with Council indicating an intent to do so by the end of the year.  I offer the following as draft suggestion to gauge the reaction of both my colleagues and constituents.  I emphasize that these are just draft suggestions and look forward to further discussion on this subject.  I think its important to find ways to give this money back to the community in ways that balance tax relief with city goals and fairly treat homeowners, businesses and renters

Property taxes: I would propose that we consider an allocation of 35 % of the funding to a property tax rebate that would go back to property owners in proportion to their existing property tax burden.  Approaching this as a rebate, rather than rate reduction, is a preferable approach per comments made by many on Council in spring 2012 during initial discussion of the budget (but we will look at property tax rates as part of the 2013 budget process next year).

Rental building improvements:
Not everyone in the City paying property taxes owns a single family home.  I propose that we set 25 % of the funding aside to allow single (or multi-year) reductions in property taxes for rental buildings (for example owned by housing development partnerships) to cover costs of energy efficiency improvements that would help reduce future costs of energy for renters.  This is a fair way to make sure all residents can benefit from the available funding and allow us to help reduce long-term housing costs. 

Commercial property:  Similar to the approach described above for rental buildings, I'd propose we set aside 20% of funds for programs (like those recommended in the TFEA report) that would create an incentive or cost-share to businesses installing energy efficiency upgrades, energy conservation measures or installing solar power or heat pumps.  Like the rental property proposal above, these changes would lower costs for businesses but also help achieve an important citywide goal that residents have identified.

City needs:  I propose that 20 % of the funding be used to pay for high priority services that would benefit residents and other city needs that were not identified at the time the budget was approved.  In particular, I am interested in Sunday hours (outside of summer) for the library, the purchase of the vacant lot at the corner of Jackson Avenue and Ethan Allen that could be used as a community garden and 'welcome' gateway. 

City debt:  I wouldn't allocate more of 2012 money here.  We paid off  bonded debt ahead of schedule in 2011.  We did the same thing again in 2012 already.  And the majority of our remaining debt cannot be paid off early anyway (terms of the remaining municipal building bond don't let us pay it off early until 2015).  We have less debt now, compared the value of property throughout the city, than we've had in 12 years, and I just don't foresee us having a problem with making future payments ahead of schedule as well.

Unfunded pension liabilities:  Unfunded pension liabilities include future things like the anticipated cost of a retiring police officer's pension in the near and distant future versus how much we have set aside for that cost.  The November 19th meeting agenda packet (and video) include more information on this.  This is an area where I would support us making additional investments.  My understanding is that we already have a lower unfunded liability than the average community but we could do better, and the level of liability is still a worry.

I emphasize that these are just draft suggestions and look forward to further discussion on this subject.
I posted on this in the fall but wanted to update this site with the Takoma Park Police Department's new data on crime in the City.  2011 was another year of falling crime, overall, in the City.  In 2009, we had 764 crimes reported.  In 2010, there were 653 crimes.  In 2011, that figure dropped to 565 crimes.  Any crime is still a bad thing but I thought this data from our Police Department's crime analyst would provide Ward 2 residents with a context around which to evaluate crime in the City.

I know it doesn't always feel like it - an attempted burglary just happened on New Hampshire Avenue on August 6th - but crime in Takoma Park has been on a downward trend for years.  In 2002, approximately 5.5% of residents experienced a non-violent theft of property from their home or car - in 2010, that figure dropped to 3.5%.  Similarly for violent crime, just less than 1% of residents experienced a violent crime in 1980 - in 2010 that had dropped to approximately a 0.4% of residents.    In comparison, in nearby Hyattsville there is 60% more violent crime and 300% more non-violent property crime.

The Takoma Park Police Department reports on crime every year - for example the 2010 report is here and you can also find much of the data for many years here.  Another service our police department provides is near real time tracking of where crimes are occurring in a map that is available to the public.  They also track citations - for example in 2010 gave 40 citations to drivers who failed to stop or yield to pedestrians and bikes or blocked pedestrian/bike routes and saw a 70 % reduction in vehicle accidents with pedestrians or bikes versus 2009. 

We should be striving for continuous annual reductions in overall levels of violent and non-violent crime.  In particular, the City Council should be helping our police force continue to reduce the rate of burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts (nearly 600 occurred in 2010).  Any crime is unacceptable, but I am very satisfied with the services Takoma Park's police force provides for us.  We should - and do - have a police force that is responsive and accountable to the public.