Takoma Park – Safe, Strong and Supporting Each Other
Consistent with the actions of other jurisdictions in the Washington, DC area, the Montgomery County Board of Health voted this afternoon to move Montgomery County into Phase 1 Reopening on Monday, June 1 at 6 am. Phase 1 allows some outdoor seating around restaurants, some curbside service from retail stores, limited hair appointments, and some child care operations. Rulings and guidelines related to these private businesses are under the State of Maryland and the County health departments.
The City of Takoma Park continues to work with our business community to assist them in preparing for changes allowed under Phase 1. Unfortunately, there was not much advance notice from Montgomery County that Phase 1 Reopening would begin Monday, so we and the businesses are scrambling to get ready. Thankfully, we have been working closely with them since the health crisis began and we are here to support our businesses and protect public health.
What does the County decision mean for Takoma Park? The biggest changes starting on Monday will be:
- Restaurants will be able to continue take out service and begin outdoor seating following social distance protocols.
- Retail stores will be allowed to have curbside pick up.
- Hair salons and barbershops are allowed to reopen following specific guidelines.
There will be no significant change in the City of Takoma Park governmental operations due to Montgomery County’s Phase 1 Reopening.
City of Takoma Park governmental buildings will not be open to the public for many weeks and most of our services will continue to be handled remotely. Our Police Department is always open for emergency services and our Police and Public Works staff continue to work serving the community.
What have we been doing in this time before Phase 1 Reopening?
Our City staff has been putting in long, difficult hours working with families and small businesses in need. It is hard to adequately describe the heart-wrenching situations many of our residents face. We have families whose primary breadwinner is sick and suddenly the family is without income and health insurance. Applying for and access to services and stimulus payments are complicated by limited English or lack of documentation. We have been able to help a number of these families get testing, pay rent, obtain food and face masks and make key connections to ongoing services. We will continue to provide this assistance.
Our small businesses have also been pressed to the limit. When the federal stimulus program was issued to help small businesses, the program went through banks. Banks focused on the businesses they worked with most closely, which were often larger businesses. Most of our businesses in Takoma Park were not helped. However, the City of Takoma Park had already acted. Even before the federal government acted, we had started our Mini-Grant program with funds we were able to pull together. So far, we have helped about three dozen businesses with our Mini-Grant program with grants mostly in the $2,000 range. When we received their applications for help, the businesses were ranked by need. Those with employees and special needs ranked higher, and we have been working through the 93 approved applications as funds become available. Now that the Council has identified additional funds, we hope to be able to assist all or most of the eligible businesses that applied for assistance over the next two months. However, we estimate that the businesses that applied represent only about 15% of our business community, so much more work is needed. Staff has been having weekly calls with the Crossroads Development Authority and the Old Town Business Association and communicating directly with many small businesses. We will continue to provide assistance to our businesses and we have prepared recommendations for Council consideration of the use of public space to support our small businesses and protect public health.
City administrative work has been heavy: our staff has been working long hours on budget preparation, oversight of employee health measures and hazard pay, IT services to staff working remotely, and facilitating the City Council as they hold virtual meetings. We will continue to hold virtual meetings at this time.
Recreation, Library and Arts staff have been doing virtual programming, and it is wonderful! Please watch for the special summer programming the Recreation Department is putting into place. They have also been planning for direct services under new health protocols. Senior Recreation staff are studying the child care protocols, which are quite extensive, and preparing for a number of options depending on how Montgomery County Public Schools decides to proceed with its classes. The Library is looking to begin contactless book lending in June. (If you still have Library books from before the pandemic started, please return them so that we can get them ready for our new program!) Besides work for their own departments, some Recreation and Library staff have been helping other City efforts, from garden maintenance to assisting residents through the Emergency Assistance program.
Communications about the rapid changes that have occurred during the health emergency are key. We have been helping residents and businesses access funds and services, providing health information, and telling success stories. Our one Communications Specialist has had her hands full, but staff from other departments have stepped up. We have done mailings, social media, and website updates. It’s a huge lift and ever-changing, but we have focused on being accurate and targeting information to those who need it the most. We will continue to communicate with residents and keep them informed during the crisis. Be sure to check out our Covid-19 Information and Resource page.
Soon our Neighborhood Services Team staff will be returning to more active service. They provide educational information regarding our Safe Grow and other environmental laws, and they do parking enforcement and property code enforcement. While enforcement of serious safety issues has continued throughout the health emergency, most parking and code enforcement activities have been on hold. We will not start regular parking enforcement right away, but now that more businesses can do curbside sales, we know there may need to be increased parking enforcement.
Even as we look at how to address City service needs this summer and fall, we also have to keep our eyes forward to next year and the year after that. We will be watching how revenue changes may affect Takoma Park. The City Council and I will have frequent discussions on that topic as we learn more. And, we need to keep our eyes on the vision and priorities for Takoma Park post-pandemic. What will we be doing to make Takoma Park a more equitable and livable community?
“Takoma Park – Safe, Strong and Supportive of Each Other” is not just a nice sentiment; it is a necessity. The pandemic has brought that home. What each of us does affects our neighbors. Wearing your mask, keeping your social distance, washing your hands, and helping each other out when we can is a health and community necessity.
We are in this together!