Council Makes Difficult Budget Decisions. Over the last three months the Mayor and Council have been struggling with some difficult budget decisions. While we have a good deal of money in our reserves (over $1.5 million), we have been dipping into our reserves for the past few years. There are three basic reasons for the structural problem: First, there have been major cutbacks in the amount of money the city receives from the state of MD. We used to receive over $160,000 in state grants that have been reduced down to almost nothing. Second, the evaluations on the houses in Mount Rainier have gone down, which is producing less revenue from the property tax, which is the largest revenue source in our city. Third, we purchased a number of properties a few years ago in order to have more of a role in deciding on how development will proceed in our downtown area. The debt payment on those properties is over $150,000 a year.
We were confronted with three basic choices: (a) cut back services and layoff some personnel; (b) raise revenue by increasing the tax rate; (c) continue to dip into our reserve fund. I thought we should dip into the reserves for one more year until we found out whether we would be able to sell the properties on Rhode Island Avenue, and at the same time do an overall assessment on what services could be cut back. Others on the Council thought we should raise taxes this year.
At the end we reached a compromise. We held off raising taxes this year and instead eliminated two positions. We will not be filling a vacancy in the police department and we will be eliminating one code enforcement position (and unfortunately laying off one of our three code enforcement officers). Over the next year we will be seeing what happens to our properties on Rhode Island Avenue and doing a top-to-bottom review of all our city services. At some point if we cannot cut back enough ‘discretionary’ programs, we will all have to decide whether to increase taxes on single-family homes and the apartments or cut back services that we in the City are accustomed to. This is a problem not just in Mount Rainier but in almost every jurisdiction in our area, in the state and throughout the country as the lingering effects of the recession result in lost revenues and decreased property values.
Rhode Island Avenue Development. A few months ago the City issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the two properties we own on the 3200 block of Rhode Island Avenue. The deadline for submission was May 30th. The good news is that there was real interest in developing these properties, and three interested parties (Streetsense, Dr. Jamal Fadul, and AHC, Inc) have submitted proposals to the City. The Council has a development team that is meeting with each of the groups that submitted proposals to the City. Hopefully we will soon have a concrete plan for the development of those properties and we can have a public hearing on a plan for development of that site.
Hot Weather and Storm Damage. Wow! It’s been quite a few weeks, with record-setting high temperatures and two vicious storms. Our house lost power for 12 hours during the first storm and had two huge tree limbs fall in our backyard, but we consider ourselves extremely lucky for not having a longer period of time without power. Our City actually did better than some of the neighboring towns in terms of storm damage. I feel bad for those folks in Montgomery County who were without power for over a week. I think our public works department did a good job clearing the street when trees blocked the roads and picking up the extra yard (tree) waste and hauling it away. We still think we can do better, and the City will be reviewing its Emergency Preparedness Plan. The senior housing building (Rainier Manor on Queens Chapel Road across from the Giant) was without power for two days, and there was no specific plan about who and how to assist those people in need. It was a good test for the City and showed us weaknesses in how we deal with these kinds of crises.
Joe’s Movement Emporium Wins Prestigious Grant. Joe’s just announced that they received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help enliven the Mount Rainier town center. The grant is for public arts projects that will pair artists with businesses and engage citizens through participatory public arts projects. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about the projects in the coming months.
Thomas Stone Playground Undergoes Transformation. From a recent press article: “A dream is now a reality for children in Mount Rainier as their drawings were turned into a new playground today. In less than eight hours, the play space was built with the help of more than 200 volunteers from ForestersTM, Thomas Stone Elementary School, Prince George's County Public Schools and non-profit KaBOOM!. The new playground will serve more than 11,000 children and their families in the community for years to come….Planning for the playground began at a Design Day event held in April when local children and community leaders met with organizers from KaBOOM! and Foresters to design their dream playground. The children's drawings were then used to create the final playground design.” Click here to read the whole article.
Interview with Vernon Sears. Vernon was born on Otis Street in the 1940s, grew up in our City and still lives here. He has a great story tell about the white working class neighborhood he grew up in and how he and the City have changed. Check it out on-line by clicking here.
Mount Rainier Is A Safe Place To Live. Every act of violence in our community is one too many. When we find out about our neighbor’s car being broken into, read about the sexual assault on the NW Branch, or grieve with the family whose teenage boy was killed last year, it does not seem that our community is a safe place to live. But recent statistics released by the Mount Rainier Police Department actually show a continued decrease in reported crime over the last ten years. There were 144 reported crimes in the first six months of this year, down from 181 in 2011 and 279 in 2003. The chart below shows the continued decrease in crime in our community.2012 Home Tour – October 14th 2012. Save the Date – We’re still looking for homes for the tour. We’re not looking for the perfect renovation but just some interesting homes that can help your neighbors get some ideas from, about what they might do to their homes. If one of your neighbors has a cool house and you think it would be a good fit for our home tour, let me know and I’ll ask the person myself (I can keep your name anonymous!).
National Night Out - Tuesday August 7th.- This year’s National Night Out will be held on the Southern side of our City at Otis and Wells (site of the skate board park) and will primarily consist of old-fashioned neighborhood walks.
Neighborhood Watch Meeting – Sunday July 22nd at 1 PM. Potluck Brunch at the Robinson Home - 3711 35th Street. For more information call Tyrese Robinson: 301- 591-1773. Neighbors Working Together in a Partnership with the Police can make for one of the best crime-fighting teams around!!
Youth and Recreation Committee Meeting - Monday July 30th at 6:30 PM at Mount Rainier City Hall. The Y&R Committee is one of our most active city committees. Last year it did a good job of coordinating the city’s grants to community groups that are working on recreational activities for our community. “The Mount Rainier Recreation Committee aims to facilitate multi-generational recreational opportunities in the areas of sports, appreciation of our natural environment and the arts. The committee supports the work of activity specific recreational committees and ad hoc interest groups as needed. The Committee is the steward for the City of Mount Rainier recreational resources insuring that residents have full access and take full advantage of our neighborhood treasures: light refreshments will be provided.”
A Few Less Ward Reports. My full-time job has been keeping me very busy over the last few months so I apologize that my regular reports are not as frequent as they used to be. Hopefully things will slow down at work and I’ll be able to send these out on a monthly basis.