The Takoma Park City Council adopted on Monday its fiscal 2014 budget, which reduces the city’s real property tax rate. The budget includes money for environmental sustainability initiatives, a pilot program serving seniors and others, and new staff positions in the city library and police and recreation departments.
The city budget includes $23.5 million in revenue and $25.3 million in expenditures, with the city using some funds from its reserves to fill in the gap.
With Takoma Park’s fiscal 2013 expenditures estimated at about $23 million, the fiscal 2014 budget expenditures mark a roughly 10 percent increase in city spending.
The council reduced the real property tax rate from 58 cents to 57 cents, a decision Mayor Bruce Williams said was based on the city’s receipt of county funds late in its budget process last year.
“(The payment) was to make up for an underpayment from the county for municipal tax duplication for police services,” said Acting City Manager Suzanne Ludlow in an email.
Ludlow said based only on the 57-cent property tax rate, without any state or other credits, a property valued at $400,000 would pay $2,280 in taxes.
The Montgomery County Council gave the city about $650,000, Williams said.
“We didn’t return it then,” Williams said, “We said, ‘Let’s hold on and see what happens.’”
By reducing the real property tax rate, he said, the city will see a reduction in revenue that roughly equals the amount the county provided.
“It was to address that money from last year,” Williams said.
Ludlow said she proposed keeping the real property tax rate the same, which would have resulted in a revenue loss for the city.
The decrease in the tax rate, she said, will amount to a further loss of revenue.
“I think it’s recognizing that the tax rates are a burden and that there’s some of the funds that need to be returned to the tax payers,” Ludlow said of the council’s decision.
With the use of city reserves, the city’s fund balance will decrease by about $1.77 million.
“We had money in the bank, and we didn’t need to hold on to that much money, so we’re spending it down a little bit for some of the services that the council wanted to see,” Ludlow said.
Williams said the city will have unappropriated reserves of 17 percent of its expenditures, including capital expenses, and reserves of about 20 percent, excluding capital expenses.
Given the general rule of thumb for the area’s municipalilties to have about 15 percent, he said, “we’re still in good shape.”
Under the new budget, the city police department will have money to add a half-time employee who will coordinate emergency management activities, including training police and city staff in emergency preparedness and ensuring the city’s emergency operations plan is up to date.
The city recreation department will use budget money to add several part-time employees to help staff its after-school care program and the Takoma Park Recreation Center, according to Gregory Clark, the department’s director.
A new half-time position in the city manager’s office will involve working in a new two-year pilot program designed to help connect seniors and others to various community services and resources.
The budget also allocates $250,000 for environmental sustainability initiatives — which include a city action plan and greenhouse gas emission inventory — about $162,000 for grants to community service organizations, and $20,000 for youth vocational training.
Ellen Arnold-Robbins, director of the Takoma Park Maryland Library, said the library — which is now open on Sundays for the first time in its history — will use its share of budget money to hire a part-time librarian and fund programs during its Sunday hours.
“It just feels like a gesture of support from the community and the council,” she said.