On May 3, 2012, Councilmember Bridget Newton joined the the quarterly Rockville Community Coalition meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church to discuss various issues facing the City of Rockville, including:
Charter Review Commission: she supports opening the commission membership to applications from citizens and at the last Council meeting it was decided that each Councilmember could appoint one person and that together they would appoint another five, plus the Mayor would appoint the Chair. She doesn’t have any problems with the current charter, although she noted that a few years ago there were some discussions about whether to continue the Manager-Council form of government, but she had no issues with that. She also had no preconceived outcomes, such as a 7-member council, and wants the commission to be an independent group who would do their own research. She’s committed to holding a referendum on any changes to the Charter before Council makes a decision.
Council conflicts: she stated that her goal is to work together and there would no major/minority divisions. It’s not productive to have a divided Council and she looks forward to more 5-0 votes. Newton mentioned that when she first moved to Rockville, it seemed that despite the diverse perspectives and opinions, people got along but now discussions seem to be mean-spirited. She would like things to change so that people know they’ve been heard, but not insulted.
Budget: the last worksession and public hearing on next year’s budget will be at the next Council meeting. She had a discussion recently with Hans Reimer about the duplication of government services since Rockville is also the County seat, and perhaps the County would reimburse the City for services. There was mention of the Memorandum of Agreement between Takoma Park and Montgomery County as a potential model, and it was unclear if the planning for the sound wall in the West End could be included in this year’s budget. This also provoked a lively discussion about the opportunity to take on additional debt since interest rates are so low and what would be the appropriate circumstances to assume additional debt. Newton confirmed her fiscally conservative stance and stated her unwillingness to consider debt as a first recourse to solve financial challenges. There was also some discussion about moving to a two-year budget cycle to allow for better planning and Newton would like to have a standing finance commission consisting of experts to advise Council. There was also an interesting discussion about meeting anticipated revenue shortfalls due to the declining property values, including adopting constant yield rates on property taxes, issuing separate property tax bills to distinguish city and county taxes, changing conditions so that the city isn’t blamed for the county’s continuing tax increases, the appropriateness of the $700 per capita debt ceiling set in 1989, promoting Homestead exemptions, and whether HOAs were being double-taxed (whew!).
Economic Summit: Newton would like to follow-up on last year’s summit but include other perspectives, not just economic, but she doesn’t know when another summit might be held. She also would like to see a visioning process similar to 1995, but would like it to be more inclusive.
Revisiting Decisions: A question from the audience prompted a discussion on the recent decision by Council to change the zoning code to prevent Pumphrey’s from building a parking lot adjacent to their business. Newton felt that non-conforming uses should not be allowed to expand and that this had been a long-standing policy of the City. While some had portrayed the current Council as changing their mind, she stated it was the previous Council that had changed its mind by granting permission after three previous attempts had been denied.
All that in an hour! The group then went onto to discuss a stream clean-up in Rose Hills in a couple weeks, plans to hold a forum for civic associations to discuss issues of mutual interest, the upcoming recommendations on the community review process for new developments, and the Celebrate Mom event in Town Square on May 5.