A Letter to the Community on Budget Goals and Priorities.
Dear Takoma Park Community,
The uncertainty and enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic hangs over us all. Although there are many unknowns that make planning even for the next few weeks — let alone the next year — harder than usual, we are committed to ensuring the long-term wellbeing and safety of all Takoma Park residents.
As members of the Takoma Park City Council, we have been working since early April on the FY2021 City Budget. We extend our deep appreciation to the work of the City Manager and staff during this time. We knew from the first presentation on April 6th that the proposed budget needed to be revised to take into consideration the health crisis, and we have learned much more about the health and economic situation since then.
Over the past few weeks, we have discussed and posed questions about the City Budget and heard from many residents about their priorities and concerns. As we work to finalize the budget, we’ve come together to summarize some of the overarching goals we have identified over the past few weeks.
There is still more discussion and difficult decisions for the Council to make on the budget. We have differing views on various specific line-items in the budget, but our discussions over the past weeks have shown a common commitment to ensuring that City funds are managed responsibly to ensure the wellbeing and safety of our community now and into the future.
As the City, we are the first line of defense for those most impacted and vulnerable during this crisis. By acting quickly and with sufficient resources, we can help more people stay in their homes and keep businesses afloat while we wait and advocate for assistance at the county, state, and federal level. We also know that while this crisis impacts everyone, the magnitude of the impact is not equal, further exposing the racial injustices that we must address as a City.
Our focus for the remainder of FY2020 and as we consider the FY2021 budget must be to provide for those residents, staff, and businesses most impacted and vulnerable during this very difficult time.
Therefore, we are prioritizing:
- Resources to enable the City to continue to provide financial support for residents including rent, HOA fees, utilities, medical care, food, and other needs.
- Resources to increase workforce development assistance to residents who have been laid-off or forced to job transition.
- Support and assistance to our small businesses and business associations.
- Resources to support the City’s frontline staff who are working hard to provide critical support and services to the community during the pandemic, including hazard pay.
- Resources and flexibility to shift how our staff and government operates to meet the needs of residents now and into the future.
- Continuation of funding for public safety initiatives.
- Continue and explore expanding targeted property tax assistance programs.
- Maintenance of healthy reserves to ensure the City has resources to meet unexpected challenges.
To meet the goals above, we support the following and continue to explore other options:
- Reductions and cuts to the proposed budget to reach a tax rate not exceeding the current rate of 53.97 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
- Suspension of funds for large public gatherings and savings from unused overtime for police and public works for such gatherings.
- A hold on filling some staff vacancies.
- A hold for at least the first quarter of the year on certain expenditures that can be re-evaluated throughout the year.
While we agree on these overarching goals and direction, we are each still looking at specific line items that may be included in the budget, cut, or placed on hold for at least the first quarter.
A budget is our roadmap for the work we do in the City. Unfortunately, the road ahead is filled with much uncertainty. We must, therefore, have a budget that is flexible enough to allow us to respond to the unknown ahead and keep our main priorities – the wellbeing of our residents, businesses, and staff – front and center.
Thank you again to the staff and to residents who have provided their input throughout this process.
Mayor ProTem Seamens