Rockville Pike Traffic Solutions Appear Confusing, but 252′ Width Seems Right
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 →
Are Rockville’s Taxes Going Up, Down, or Staying Flat?
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 →
Two Very Different Candidate Debates This Week
The campaign season has moved into high gear with the community forums (aka candidate debates) underway. This week two very different debates at two very different times will be held in Rockville:
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 →
Montgomery County Tax Rates Up Last 5 Years
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.
Can Rockville’s 2013 Budget Avoid a Crossroads in 2014?
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 →
Bridget Newton at RCC
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 →
Chamber of Commerce discussion at Rockville Community Coalition meeting
At the April 5 meeting of the Rockville Community Coalition, Andrea Jolly shared that the Chamber of Commerce is becoming more active in local advocacy and that the Chamber cares as much about the community as it does business. She’s the executive director of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, an organization that now claims 185 members, a dramatic turnaround from its nearly lifeless condition just a few years ago. As examples of their reinvigorated stature, she noted the public stand they’ve taken on behalf of Pumphrey’s; the support for environmental causes that affect the community as a whole (such as the bag tax and storm water management fees); and the sponsorship of the Rockville Economic Summit. She expressed her concerns that the community seems to be artificially divided between businesses and residents and while the Council claims to be business-friendly, their actions have indicated otherwise. Most members of the Chamber are small businesses that are locally owned and operated and rely heavily on local residents as both customers and employees. She also voiced a desire that there be good relationships throughout the community rather than irreconcilable differences–we may disagree at times, but we should always be willing to work together to solve shared issues.
During the discussion:
- she clarified the relationship with the Rockville Economic Development, Inc. (they attract and retain businesses but cannot advocate; Chamber provides ongoing services to its members and the current business community, can advocate for a business-friendly atmosphere). She also mentioned that REDI may have a new executive director in place in May.
- she was unaware that the City didn’t collect Continue reading →
Delegate Gilchrist proposes Extending Sales Taxes on More Businesses
Maryland State Delegate Jim Gilchrist of Rockville has proposed a far reaching change to the Maryland tax code that would add sales taxes to 34 additional services starting January 1, 2013 including:
- cable television
- automobile repair warranties
- auto repair and road service
- parking (although it exempts state government, of course)
- docking services
- shoe repair
- public lockers
- employment agencies
- temporary help
- tax preparation services
- notary public
- testing labs
- weighing machines
- physical fitness facilities
- dieting services
- barbers and hair stylists
- management consulting
- pest exterminators
- interior decorating
- shop window decorating
Really? Do we need more taxes in this economy? Do we want to add more government paperwork to small businesses, such as barbers, interior decorators, and shoe repairmen? Tax the service that helps prepare our taxes? Tax unemployed people who are trying to get temporary job or get help from an employment agency? Really?
This change in the law has not been adopted but is under consideration by the State House of Delegates, so you still have time to voice your opinion. State government legislation is notoriously hard to follow (and the legislature has been reluctant to be more transparent because it would mean giving up control) but according to the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, House Bill 1051 will be heard by the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, March 6. If you have concerns, contact the delegates that represent Rockville:
- Luiz Simmons: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Kumar Barve: email@example.com
- Jim Gilchrist: firstname.lastname@example.org (who proposed this legislation with Delegate Sheila Hixson on February 10)
Read House Bill 1051 for yourself–everything in bold capitals is new.
Candidates Face Last Day of Debates
Today is a double-header for the Rockville City Council candidates, putting a punctuation point to a long series of debates this season. I attended this afternoon’s session hosted at the Senior Center and tonight is the last with the Chamber of Commerce. By now, the candidates have honed their thoughts and can quickly state their positions, which is much more helpful to the voters. You can also see where alliances have formed, how their personalities affect their thinking, and where there is uncertainty. From today’s forum, it seemed the alliances are Marcuccio, Newton, Hall, and maybe Gottfried vs. Gajewski and Pierzchala (if we arranged this by nationality, we’d have. . .hmm).
This forum was primarily focused on the needs and interests of seniors, so there were questions about the candidates’ ideas to support “aging in place,” homeowner’s tax credit, affordable housing, and the impact of decreased county and state support on Rockville’s senior programming, but some ranged further, for example a surprising question on the King Farm transitway. The $100 homeowners tax credit was discussed throughout the afternoon, with Gajewski and Hall clearly supporting its reappearance; Marcuccio and Newton only if the eligibility criteria could be tightened (e.g., only for seniors); and Francis clearly against, calling it a smokescreen for the more important issue of unfair property taxes and adoption of a piggyback income tax. Time was wasted on the question, “Where senior services ranked as a priority” because no politician will Continue reading →
Historic Preservation in Rockville: Myths and Misconceptions
In yesterday’s mail I received the Twinbrook Citizens Association newsletter and noted that President Christina Ginsberg devoted a portion to historic preservation in Rockville in her article, “Is Your Home ‘Historic’?” As a member of the Historic District Commission (HDC) living in Twinbrook, I appreciate the attention to this long-standing effort in the City of Rockville, but I also want to correct some factual errors and misunderstandings, particularly because they can result in unnecessary conflicts and spread misinformation. Here are the common myths regarding preservation in Rockville:
1. If my house is designated, it’ll prevent improvements. False. In Rockville, owners of historic properties can complete routine repairs and maintenance without review or approval, as long as they replace in kind. So fix your roof with the same material, it’s okay. Change from asphalt to slate, it’ll need to be approved by the HDC. Paint colors are never subject to approval, so if you like yellow and purple stripes, go ahead. Work on the inside of your house isn’t reviewed by the HDC, so remodel your kitchen and bathroom. It’s permanent changes to the outside of your house that matter, and even then, if they are thoughtfully designed Continue reading →