Replacing Dawsons Market Requires a Cluster of Solutions; That May Be Too Much for the Mayor and Council
At the end of October 2018, Dawson’s Market closed in Rockville’s downtown. It was a big disappointment for the City of Rockville, who hailed its arrival in 2012 as a major success for the new Town Square. They spent years searching for an anchoring grocery store to attract daily shoppers to support the adjacent stores and restaurants (see MyMCM video, which includes hopeful remarks by several current and former elected officials).
In response to its closing, Dawson’s opened a short-lived $100,000 GoFundMe campaign and the Rockville Mayor and Council held two special meetings to discuss the future of Town Square (a couple other businesses recently closed as well) on October 9 and November 13, which attracted standing-room-only crowds. These meetings generated lots of questions, including current efforts by Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) and the City of Rockville. Unfortunately, most of FRIT’s responses are vague and uninformative:
- “not uncommon for independent business owners to have more challenges than larger chains” (so what are the major challenges and how are you addressing them?)
- “lease rates are determined through…many variables” (so what are the lease rates and how do they compare to areas outside of Town Square?)
- “we value and pursue feedback from our merchants” (so what are they telling you and what have you learned?)
So what are the challenges facing merchants in Town Square? According to Continue reading →
For homeowners in Rockville, July brings the annual property tax bill. I’m guessing that most people simply look at the bottom line and grumble that it’s higher than last year, blaming it on the government. But we’re the government, so we can and should tell our elected officials when it’s okay to be taxed and how we want those funds spent. Which elected officials should we blame? That’s where it can get confusing and far too often I’ve seen the wrong people blamed for the actions of others. Indeed, the Rockville Mayor and Council too often is unfairly blamed for high taxes, when it’s usually the fault of the Montgomery County Council. Take a look at the breakdown for my property taxes, which will be roughly equivalent to all other homes in Rockville because we pay the same percentage of taxes according to the assessed value of the property. As you can see in the pie chart, Montgomery County collects nearly two-thirds of the property tax (blue), Rockville about a quarter (orange), and the State of Maryland about ten percent (green). Rockville collects another ten percent for trash and stormwater management (light orange) but Continue reading →
The League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, Montgomery County Council of PTAs, Montgomery County Branch of NAACP, and the Montgomery County Interbranch Council of AAUW (whew!) are hosting a Candidates’ Forum for the Montgomery County Board of Education on Wednesday, September 28 from 7:00-8:45 pm at Kennedy High School, 1901 Randolph Road in Silver Spring. For more information, visit lwvmocomd.org.
Tracie Potts of NBC4 will moderate the discussion among At-Large candidates Jeanette Dixon and Phil Kauffman, District 2 candidates Brandon Rippeon and Rebecca Smondrowski, and District 4 candidates Shebra Evans and Anjali Reed Phukan. If elected, these persons will not only be responsible for the education of children in the county but also more than $1 billion in taxpayer funds. Choose wisely!
In Montgomery County, a Board of Education district means a geographic area in which an elected member of the Board must live. In Montgomery County there are five resident-district members and two at-large members of the Board; however, all Board members are elected by the county as a whole.
Rockville residents Tom Moore and Dana Tofig recently launched MoCo Beat, a podcast about “the news, the politics, and the life of Montgomery County.” Moore is an attorney with the Federal Elections Commission and recently concluded four years of service on the Rockville City Council. Tofig works in the research arm of the US Department of Education was formerly the Public Information Officer with Montgomery County Public Schools. Their first episode looks at the Rockville Pike Plan, the recently adopted Montgomery County budget, places to buy beer, and new restaurants in downtown Rockville. The first podcast is just short of 40 minutes and looks like it might be a weekly production.
With the demise of the Gazette newspaper and spartan coverage by the Washington Post, it is difficult to locate news about Rockville but here are the ones I know: Continue reading →
On Monday, May 9, the Rockville Mayor and Council will continue its worksession on “Rockville’s Pike Neighborhood Plan.” Along with building heights and pedestrian crossings, traffic congestion is a major controversy and the conversation has become terribly confusing: widening or narrowing the road, keeping or eliminating the access roads, extending adjacent roads, increasing Metro service, and incorporating bus rapid transit (BRT). Some of these solutions are beyond the control of the City (such as Metro service), some benefit one group versus another (such as businesses or nearby residents), and others are so expensive or far in the future that their feasibility is unclear (such as the BRT). What’s become incredibly confusing are Continue reading →
In elections, taxes are often a hot-button issue and that’s no different in the current Rockville Mayor and Council campaign. Taxes are are the largest source of government revenue and directly affect most residents and businesses, but they aren’t the only source. For Rockville, those sources include fees, permits, fines, licenses, investments, and overhead. As you can see in the chart from the City’s FY2016 adopted budget, property taxes contribute 51 percent and “Other Gov’t” (which consists of highway user taxes and income taxes) is 25 percent.
Property taxes not only represent the largest share of general fund revenues at $38 million but they are also expected to grow more than 5 percent in 2016 compared to last year. That’s not because of increased rates, but increased property values. Although I always grumble when I receive my property tax bill, I’m slightly mollified by knowing that the value of my house has also increased (and that I’m helping pay for those things I value in my community, such as roads, parks, police, libraries, schools, etc. etc.). In chatting with others in the community, they also grumble about property taxes but place most of the blame on the City of Rockville, but it should actually be aimed at Continue reading →
Senior Citizens Commission Candidates’ Forum on Wednesday afternoon, October 14, 2015 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm at the Rockville Senior Center, 1150 Carnation Drive. This debate will address specific issues affecting seniors, in addition to some questions of general interest, as time allows, with the final hour reserved for one-on-one conversations with those attending.
West End Citizens Association (WECA) on Thursday evening, October 15, 2015 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at the Rockville Presbyterian Church, 215 W. Montgomery Avenue. Most likely this forum will focus on issues that affect the West End, such as traffic, development, commercial/residential balance, historic preservation, and pedestrian safety, which may be similar to other residential neighborhoods.
Both forums are free and open to the public, and no reservations are needed.
Last week about seventy people gathered at the Thomas Farm Community Center to watch the first candidate forum (watch on YouTube). Hosted by the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, the questions focused on issues that were important to the business community, such as the impact of the new developments on the north (Crown) and south (Pike and Rose), the future of the APFO, building heights and street widths on the Rockville Pike, and if the non-residential tax base should grow to support city services. This was the community’s first chance to see all the candidates together and assess how they handled a variety of questions in a very controlled environment. If anyone expected sparks to fly, the minute-long responses don’t lend themselves to much content that generates controversy. Many fell to vague pat answers such as Continue reading →
I often hear Rockville residents grumble about property taxes and they often blame the city for taking an unfair share of their hard-earned income. Although property taxes in the City of Rockville have held steady for the last few years, they’ve risen in Montgomery County. From 2007 to 2012, the County Council has increased the tax rate each year–but hardly anyone in Rockville has noticed and put the blame in the right place. In 2007, the property tax rate was 62 cents for every $100 in assessed value, today it’s 72 cents–a 15 percent increase over five years. Businesses were similarly affected through personal property taxes (which is assessed on inventory, manufacturing equipment, etc.), rising from $1.57 to $1.81, a 16 percent increase over five years. No changes at the State of Maryland–it does not assess property taxes.
Why blame the City and not the County? I suspect it’s because residents assume that 100 percent of their property taxes goes to the city in which they live. Actually, each jurisdiction sets its own rates and you’ll see it split out in writing on your annual property tax bill. If you live in Rockville, for every $100 in the assessed value of your property, you pay 72 cents to the county and 29 cents to the city. Today, the median sales price for a house is Rockville is $416,000, so the total annual property tax bill would be $4,227–$3,012 for the county and $1,215 for the city. Montgomery County receives more than twice as much money from you as the City of Rockville–do you feel you get the same proportion of value in return?
It is has been proposed that a person’s recognition that they pay property taxes is directly related to their level of civic engagement (e.g., voting, writing city council, speaking up at public hearings). In other words, a homeowner knows they pay property taxes because they receive an annual bill, so they’re aware that they’re taxpayers and have a say about government. That’s not true about renters, condo owners, or resthome residents, whose property taxes are rolled into their monthly fees or dues, so they’re not as apt to think they’re tax payers and have a stake in government. What do you think?
Tax rates for the last ten years are available from the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation.
The Mayor and Council just closed public hearing on the upcoming $65 million budget and about twenty people had comments (mostly community service groups, such as Community Ministries, Sister City, Jefferson House, Scholarship Foundation, and Bike Advisory Committee). Out of nearly 70,000 residents, that doesn’t seem like very many people and I’m not sure if that means that residents don’t care, don’t understand it, or didn’t know about it, but considering it’s all about how their money is used, it’s surprising. The public record stays open until 5 pm on May 17 so there’s still time to submit comments before the budget is adopted on May 21 (although some members of the Council admitted they are drowning in budget information).
As many of you know, I’ve had ongoing concerns that there’s been a trend that revenues aren’t keeping up with expenses and although the Council has so far kept those lines from crossing, it may be impossible to avoid in the next couple years without some serious consequences. Of course, the City can’t run a deficit, so that means either increasing revenues (typically taxes) or reducing expenses (fewer city services). No politician likes that situation because voters don’t like those options. We prefer an imaginary world of more services and fewer taxes believing it’s possible by following platitudes like cutting fat, working smarter, and thinking outside the box (and incidents like the recent GSA conference only confirm those feelings). What really happens is that politicians will avoid tax increases on those who yell the most and the loudest (usually seniors because they understand the system and have time) and cut services to those don’t complain (people who don’t understand the system or don’t have time, such as children, families with kids, renters, recent immigrants, and the poor).
For the Council’s deliberations on the budget for fiscal year 2013, rather than look at ways to cut expenses, I urged them to consider new or expanded sources of revenue to maintain and enhance existing city services (particularly the parks and recreation, historic preservation, and public art programs) that make Rockville a distinctive place to live and work. Of course we need good roads, a responsive police department, regular trash pickup, and clean water–those are basics but they don’t make Rockville distinctive and prevent the monotony that’s so much the norm of suburban living. A comparison of the top five revenue sources among the city, county, and state suggests Continue reading →
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 Continue reading →