The Dollars & Cents
From Kate Stewart, Mayor of Takoma Park
The City Council has just concluded one of its most important functions – passing a budget. The City’s budget is a quantitative expression of our plans for the upcoming year. It embodies in dollars and cents the goals and priorities we are working toward.
The Process: How We Get a Budget
Every year in early April, the City Manager submits a recommended budget to the City Council for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1. The Proposed Budget is considered by the City Council through a public process of hearings, Council work sessions, and final adoption in late May. The Adopted Budget sets the tax rates and guides the expenditure of funds by the City throughout the fiscal year, July 1 through June 30. You can view the City Manager’s proposed budget and budget presentations here.
The foundation for our budget discussions began back in January when the Council established the 2016 Priorities. The Priorities document also provides a listing of major projects, initiatives, and ongoing activities that the Council and City staff will continue to work on and established a framework for the Council as it looked at the budget.
During our many discussions about the budget, we debated trade-offs and considered the best ways to address residents’ needs and priorities given the resources available.
The City’s main source of revenue is property taxes. And this year, after much deliberation, the Council set the rate at 56.75 cents (per $100 of assessed value). This is lower than last year’s rate of 58.50 cents. The current tax rate is higher than the constant yield tax rate of 55.18 cents which means the City will have $345,211 more in property tax revenue than we had last fiscal year.
All of us on the Council understand that while we are setting the budget for the City, individuals and families are doing the same for their own households. Therefore, it was central to our discussions to ensure fiscal responsibility while delivering on the services residents rely on and have come to expect, and at the same time address the needs and priorities for the future. For more information on the tax rate and assessments and for helpful information about applying for tax credits, please see this blog by the City Manager.
So what is in the budget? The budget advances the following established priorities of the City Council:
- A Livable Community For All
- Fiscally Sustainable Government
- Environmentally Sustainable Community
- Engaged, Responsive & Service-oriented Government
- Advance Economic Development Efforts
The part of the budget I am most excited about and glad we started this year is the Housing Reserve Fund to address the affordable housing needs in our community. We have put $400,000 in the fund and in upcoming meetings the Council will enact, by ordinance, criteria and procedures as are necessary to operate the Housing Reserve. This reserve grew out of the Council’s priority discussions and the Community Conversation on Affordable Housing we held in February. I look forward to working with my colleagues as we further develop plans for the fund.
Another priority area established by the Council and reflected in our budget is additional funds for youth programs. Our Council priority is to identify youth and family programming needs in the community, especially for our more vulnerable residents including but not limited to those in lower income and immigrant families and those with developmental disabilities, and develop approaches to meet those needs. This year the budget has in it funds to support local community groups that work with young people including MANUP and Lunch and Learn as well as funding for additional funds for increased multimedia lab hours (put forward by Councilmember Male), the establishment of a Takoma Park College Scholarship (put forward by Councilmember Smith), and additional Play Days (put forward by Councilmember Kovar). On June 18th we will hold a Community Conversation on Youth Success to continue identifying the needs of young people and how the City in partnership with local organizations can address those needs.
Another significant part of the budget is dedicating resources to economic development efforts. We have allocated $150,000 for these efforts and will be discussing in upcoming months the best use of those resources. Councilmember Schultz has already started to bring forth ideas for Council consideration.
There are also a number of other very important items in the budget such as the carry-over of money from last year to hire a consultant to assist with police-community relations. Thanks to Councilmember Seamens for his continued advocacy in this area. We have also allocated an additional $100,000 over the actuarial-recommended amount needed in our police pension an area that Councilmember Qureshi has been championing on the Council.
There are many other items in the budget including moving forward with developing the renovation plans for the library, the Dog Park construction, playgrounds on Colby Avenue and Sligo Mill Road, sidewalk construction and the addition of 7th and 8th grade girls basketball – to name just a few. For more details please see the City City website’s Budget & Financial documents page.
I want to thank my colleagues on the Council for their hard work and thoughtfulness as we worked through the budget process, residents who provided valuable comments and input, and to our City Staff, especially the City Manager, Deputy City Manager and Finance Director who prepared the budget and answered Council and resident questions.