April 15, 2013: Budget hearing, Montgomery College briefing, and vote on electoral changes

The Monday evening, April 15 city-council meeting will feature three items of significant interest to many.

Public Hearing on the Proposed FY14 City Budget

The acting city manager has released her proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2013, FY14. The first of two public hearings is scheduled for 8 pm. (The hearing second is scheduled for April 29.)

The proposed budget is posted online. It maintains the FY13 property-tax rate despite lower property-tax assessments city wide and despite plummeting speed-camera revenues (a testament that the camera are working!). It would consolidate contractor and part-time city TV hours into new staff positions. It would add part-time staff in three areas: 1) A “two year contract position to coordinate and provide services to seniors, persons with disabilities and others”; 2) an IT administrative assistant; and 3) a police emergency-management coordinator. It would continue Sunday afternoon library hours, which start in early May, devote fund to economic development initiatives, and allocate $100,000 above actuarially-required amounts to police pension funding.

Montgomery College Briefing

Montgomery College Takoma Park Provost Brad Stewart will brief the council on plans that include replacing a walkway on the Silver Spring side of the Pavilion 3 building on New York Avenue with two stories of office space. The college would add a stairway tower on the front of the building.

I will tell you now: I believe the design is discordant. Judge for yourself: I scanned images Provost Stewart had given me last month and posted them. But the design is immaterial because the city council, in a 2008 resolution, set city policy that the building should be torn down. See the resolution, which includes the text:

“The Council supports the policy of greater consolidation and cohesiveness of College facilities and the reconnection of its historic residential neighborhood of North Takoma of Block 69, and requests the College to… Vacate and demolish Pavilion 3 and the kiln bunker, both of which are obsolete structures, and work constructively with the City in re-integrating these properties appropriately into the single-family residential neighborhood as a passive memorial park.”

Given this policy, I can’t see any city reaction to a presentation of Pavilion 3 alterations other than opposition, given that alterations would extend the life of a building the city believes should be demolished.

The agenda backgrounder is posted online.

Provost Stewart is appearing, by the way, given a 2002 commitment that “Montgomery College agrees that it shall consult with the City of Takoma Park and the local community when making any major or substantial changes or alterations to the existing structures.”

Electoral Changes

The first-reading vote, to amend voting and electoral provisions in the city charter, is slated for the April 15 council meeting. Those provisions, most notably, would extend the vote in city elections to 16- and 17-year-old voters. They would establish Same Day Registration (SDR) for city elections and allow on-parole and on-probation felons to vote in city elections. They would establish a minimum age of 18 for city offices.

The council held an April 8 public hearing on these proposed charter changes. The hearing attracked MANY enthusiastic teens, all favor lowering the voting age of course (although some of them don’t live in Takoma Park). I don’t have a tally of the relatively small number of adult voices but they were split for/against a lower voting age. To me, the most interesting testimony was 5 or 6 voices speaking out for enfranchising ALL felons, including those who are incarcerated.

Regarding lowering the voting age, I did tally comments prior to the hearing: 18 For, 9 Against, and 12 Neither, the majority of whom expressed skepticism that lowering the voting age would make a difference. Count among the supporters Maryland State Senator, and Ward 1 resident, Jamie Raskin.

I’m guessing that most folks have seen the studies that strongly suggest that a lower voting age WILL make a difference, that those who start voting early vote at a higher rate as they grow older, than those who first vote at a more advanced age, as documented in a letter of endorsement from the Tuft’s University Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).  We‘ve had other support, including from the Gazette newspaper.

A second-reading vote, on April 22, would enact the charter change, subject to a repeal petition.

Additional public comment is welcome, at the council meeting or by e-mail to clerk@takomagov.org.

Thanks for reading and for any and all views you wish to share.

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