Takoma Park residents ask city to go even greener
City manager's recommended 2012 budget results in $1.6M deficiency
As some residents held up homemade signs with such slogans as "Show the green to save the green,'' Takoma Park residents pushed for increased spending on environmental initiatives Monday at the first public hearing on the city's proposed budget.
City Manager Barbara Burns Matthews released her recommended fiscal 2012 budget last week, projecting for about $22.9 million in total revenue and $24.5 million in total expenditures. This results in a deficiency of around $1.6 million, which will mostly be made up by dipping into city reserves, Matthews said.
About 30 residents attended Monday's public forum, with many of them advocating greener practices. Many suggested adding a sustainability coordinator to the city staff so that there would be someone exclusively focused on environmental causes. Joe Edgell of Takoma Park said the city could take money out of its speed camera fund to pay for the position.
"It's a matter of making hard choices, and change is very hard," Edgell said. "If we want to regain the mantle of an environmental city, we can do more."
City resident Mary Rooker agreed.
"A sustainability coordinator is a linchpin, and you get a return on your investment from such a person," Rooker said in the meeting.
The city is already known for its environmentally friendly outlook. Matthews already allocated money in her proposed budget for a number of environmental initiatives, including energy efficiency improvements in city buildings and a city-subsidized bulk tree purchase.
Takoma Park has also been designated a nuclear-free zone for decades, meaning the city will not allow any companies with any connections to nuclear weapons manufacturers to establish themselves in the city. The city also has an arborist on staff.
But many residents urged the city to do more environmentally.
Timothy Male of Takoma Park said he thought the recommended budget was well-constructed, but he still spoke to the council about increasing spending for the environment. He wore a green construction paper badge that said, "1 percent for the environment," meaning 1 percent of the budget should go toward environmental spending.
Male asked the council to do more to reduce the city's carbon footprint as well as make energy efficiency upgrades.
"I really hope you can find ways to do a little bit more," Male said.
Council member Josh Wright agreed with a stronger push for environmental issues during last week's city council meeting.
"I do not think we are engaged enough on the environmental front," Wright said during the meeting last week.
While projected revenue collected for taxes and utility fees will rise slightly in the city from $13.54 million in fiscal 2011 to $13.95 million in 2012, Matthews recommended the city's real property tax rate of 58 cents per $100 remain unchanged. Real property taxes make up to 58 percent of general fund revenue, Matthews said.
"As we have seen other revenue sources dry up, the percent of revenue coming from taxes has increased 50 percent," Matthews said.
During last week's unveiling of the budget, council member Terry Seamens urged against raising taxes in the city.
"As we enter the budget cycle, it's important to realize the decisions we make have very significant impacts on the residents of Takoma Park," Seamens said. "We can be enthusiastic about programs, but I think we also have to be enthusiastic about keeping taxes low."
The fiscal 2012 year starts July 1. Monday's public forum was the first of two as the city kicks off weeks of budget discussions. The council will be holding work sessions on the budget throughout April and May. There will be another public hearing April 25 which will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium in the Takoma Park Community Center at 7500 Maple Ave.