Mayor and Council Tweaking FY2024 Budget
At its Monday, May 1, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss the FY2024 Budget (that’s it!). On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are four proclamations for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Historic Preservation Month, Older Americans Month, and National Public Service Recognition Week.
The City Council is continuing to adjust the budget. Reductions include the Movies in the Park series, residential street sweeping, composting, Latino Youth Development Program, Lincoln Park Community Center, Thomas Farm Community Center After School programs, Twinbrook rentals, and Peerless Rockville [just in time for Historic Preservation Month!] (page 18). Increases include fall protection at the Senior Center, mowing for cross country events at RedGate, Teens on the Go program, energy audits, badge system annual fees, and overtime pay for Rockville Police (page 18). Concerned? Community Forum happens at 7:10 pm (but you have to request to speak by noon of the day of the meeting at firstname.lastname@example.org; no more opportunities to just drop in!).
More details in the 92-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_05012023-6892.
Mayor and Council to Choose Earmarks and Decide Upcoming Election Changes
At its Monday, February 27, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss proposed earmarks for the FY24 federal budget, requests from the Board of Supervisors of Elections, and recommendations from the Charter Review Commission. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are the preservation of public art, funding for the Rockcrest Ballet Center, Taste of Rockville agreement, and funding for the flood resilience master plan, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on operating budget and capital improvements budget for FY2024.
Yes, Congress is openly using earmarks again, “funds provided for projects or programs where the congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents the merit-based or competitive allocation process, or specifies the location or recipient.” For some, it’s simply another form of pork barrel politics but for others it’s a vital project. Perhaps the most famous earmark was by US Senator Ted Stevens to construct the Gravina Island Bridge or the “Bridge to Nowhere” for $250 million in 2002. But if you want federal funds for a specific project, the best way to ensure it is through earmarks. This year, the City of Rockville is considering several potential requests to Senator Cardin, Senator Van Hollen, and Congressman Raskin, including the emergency operations center at 6 Taft Court, police radio equipment ($1.4 million!), storm drain improvements in Potomac Woods, security for the water treatment plant, and water main or sewer main rehabilitation in an “equity focused area” (not identified but somewhere in southeast Rockville).
Preparations for the 2023 Mayor and Council election are underway and candidate information packets should be ready by May 1—however, there is still lots to be done. The Board of Supervisors of Elections is waiting for approval from the Mayor and Council on several changes to the City Charter and City Code in limbo; proposed translation of outreach materials in Spanish, Chinese, and French; adding a second vote center at Thomas Farm and placing ballot drop boxes in Montrose, Lincoln Park, and the Rockville Senior Center. Indeed, if the minimum voting age is lowered from 18 years to 16 years and the deadline for submitting nomination petitions is increased from 60 to 90 days prior to the election, the City may have already missed its ability to implement these changes for the November 2023 election.
Discussion of the 30 recommendations by the Charter Review Commission continues, this time on a more “precise, open, transparent, and definitive administrative process” for filling a vacancy on the city council after two years; adding a “none of the above” option on election ballots; increasing the size of the Board of Supervisors of Elections; increasing the number of ballot drop-off boxes; lowering the voting age to 16; and limiting the number of consecutive terms of council members to three four-year terms (but allowing a person to serve 12 years as a councilmember and 12 years as mayor—really? 12 years is plenty, give other people a chance!).
More details in the 450-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_02272023-6820.
Pandemic Resulted in High Subsidies for Recreation and Parks in 2021
At its Monday, November 21, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss financial management policies, annexing 1201 Seven Locks Road, and the new Comprehensive Plan. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are employment agreements for the Deputy City Manager and Assistant City Manager for Project Management, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on staff vacancies and hiring.
How much should the city subsidize Recreation and Parks programs, such as summer camps, skate park, or childcare, that are used by a small segment of residents? How should it manage donations it receives annually for the Holiday Drive and Senior Assistance Fund? At the upcoming meeting, the Council will discuss these and other financial management policies.
The City of Rockville has an extensive set of financial management policies that affect eight major areas: achieving and maintaining a structurally balanced budget, fund balance and reserve policies, capital planning policies, investment policies for both retirement plans and City funds, revenue control and management policies, economic development policies, and debt compliance and data analysis policies. For Recreation and Parks programs, the City uses a “five-tier cost-recovery pyramid” ranging from Tier 1 for parks, trails, landscapes, playgrounds, and general-use facilities with a 0% cost recovery to a Tier 5 for private rentals and private lessons with a 100% or more cost recovery. Fees and charges are reviewed and adjusted annually, but the pandemic lowered cost recovery significantly. In Tier 2, for example, the Lincoln Park Community Center is expected to recover 20% of its costs in 2022 (a subsidy of 80%) but in 2021 it actually recovered 3% (a subsidy of 97%). There are a couple of bright spots: Facilities Maintenance and Arts recovered more than expected (in other words, required less of a subsidy), most likely as well due to the reduced use of facilities and arts programs during the pandemic. A summary is available on Packet Page 34.
The Financial Advisory Board recently recommended that the City create a formal donations policy. The City receives less than one percent of its revenues from donations each year, which are accepted by check, made through the City’s website, the recreation registration system, and through the round-up feature with online utility bill payments. During FY 2022, the City received approximately $130,000 in donations from over 1,800 donors, averaging $12 for the Recreation Fund and $300 for the Holiday Drive. It also received two donations over $5,000: one $25,000 donation for the Holiday Drive and one $20,000 donation for the Eat Fresh program. Strangely, when the City explored this topic further, it discovered that a donations policy is not a common practice in municipal governments in Maryland. Geez, this suggests an obvious opportunity for embezzlement in government and I’m glad to see the City is thinking ahead. It’s a common practice in nonprofit organizations.
The big kahuna for the meeting (if not the year), however, is the progress on the Rockville 2040 Comprehensive Plan—the city’s “to do” list for the next twenty years. At this meeting, the City Council will review the progress on tasks that are to be completed in the next 1-3 years. This is an enormous undertaking not only to complete, but also to manage. These tasks include a zoning ordinance rewrite, updating the Town Center Master Plan, adopting a Pedestrian Master Plan, assessing speed limits on Wootton Parkway, redeveloping King Farm Farmstead, installing back-up power generation for critical facilities, promoting backyard composting, preparing a Flood Resiliency Plan, and constructing senior housing. Since the Plan’s adoption in August 2021, 228 actions are currently in the near-term completion timeframe, but are not yet completed or in progress; 43 actions are currently in the “in progress” status; and 19 actions have been completed. If you want details on what’s happening in the City or your neighborhood, start on Packet Page 89. Getting everyone on board and focused is a continual challenge, and residents and businesses (and Council members) always have new ideas—but time and staff are limited so establishing priorities is essential.
It’s also enlightening to see which neighborhoods are most engaged in the community. In October, the City distributed surveys about community needs and interests. Among the highest response rates were College Gardens (156 responses) and Twinbrook (52 responses). Among the lowest were Tower Oaks (1 response) and Lincoln Park (0 responses). I wonder if this correlates with voter turnout?
More details in the 152-page agenda packet are available at https://rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_11212022-6754.
Mayor and Council to Design Rockville Metro, Spend $6 Million in Federal Funds, and Battle over the Budget on December 13
At its Monday, December 13, 2021 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss three design concepts for Rockville Metro station, use of nearly $6 million in ARPA funds, and determine 2023 budget priorities. This is a worksession and will not offer public hearings or a community forum, but it will be streamed live if you are interested in these topics.Continue reading →
Mayor and Council to Approve 370 Residences near King Farm with Unusual Conditions
At its Monday, November 8, 2021 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will approve 370 residences at 16200 Frederick Road (aka King Buick), amend the City Code for “moderately priced housing”, and increase water and sewer rates starting in the second half of 2022. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are a replacement shelter at Isreal Park, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive a report from the Planning Commission.Continue reading →
Planning Commission discussing Development Plans for Downtown and Lincoln Park
On Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at 7:00 p.m., the Rockville Planning Commission will be considering three new development projects that could add two houses and 310 apartments to the city in downtown and Lincoln Park. Here’s what’s on the agenda:
1. 304 Frederick Avenue in Lincoln Park: JJ Realty of Bethesda proposes to create two residential lots from a 11,428-square foot lot, which will require a waiver to allow a minimum lot area below 6,000 square feet in a R-60 zone. Because this subdivision consists of fewer than 3 lots, it is exempt from the APFO.
2. 50 Monroe Place in Downtown Rockville (currently a vacant lot adjacent to the Americana Centre): RST Development proposes the development of an 81-foot-high/7-story building with 1300-sf restaurant, 8000-sf office for non-profit organizations, 70 apartments, and an underground garage on a half-acre of land located on the south side of Monroe Place, with a request to reduce the parking requirement from 91 to 40 spaces because of its proximity to public transit. The property is zoned Mixed Use Transit District (MXTD). A majority of the apartments will be Continue reading →
If you want to hear the candidates discuss various issues and meet them in person, various neighborhood and community groups are sponsoring forums throughout the city. These forums are public and everyone is welcome to attend. Some people have called these “debates” but with a baker’s dozen running for office, I regret they are going to be more like brief statements with no discussion (I’m not even sure how they’re going to fit everyone on stage).
At this moment (October 4 at 8 p.m.), here’s what I am aware of (it does keep changing and I’ll try to update this post through the comments, but there are no guarantees or warranties):
- Tuesday, October 7 at 7 pm: Legacy at Lincoln Park Homeowners Association at the Lincoln Park Community Center.
- Thursday, October 8 at 7 pm: West End at the Rockville Senior Center (televised, not confirmed)
- Tuesday, October 13 at 7 pm: Rockville Chamber of Commerce at the Legacy Hotel and Conference Center (televised, not confirmed). I will be unable to attend due to work-related scheduling conflicts.
- Tuesday, October 20 at 7 pm: Twinbrook Citizens Association at the Twinbrook Recreation Center (televised, not confirmed).
- Wednesday, October 21 from 7:30-10 pm: College Gardens Civic Association, Plymouth Woods Homeowners Association, and Woodley Gardens Civic Association at the College Gardens Elementary School (1700 Yale Place)
- Thursday, October 22 at 7 pm: King Farm Candidates Forum at the Saddle Ridge Community Center (300 Saddle Ridge Circle).
- Saturday, October 24 from 9:30-11:30 am: Rockville Central at the Thomas Farm Community Center.
- Thursday, October 29 from 1-3 pm: Rockville Seniors at the Senior Center.
Many people don’t know that in order to run for office in Rockville, you need to submit a petition signed by 100 registered voters who live in Rockville. Persons running for state senator or delegate don’t have the same requirement, so at first I was a bit puzzled and wondered why we had to jump through this hoop. Now that I’m in the process, it does make sense. If you’re running for public office, you need to be serious and have sufficient support from the community to place your name in the hat. It does require time, but much more time will be needed if you’re elected. Finally, it gets you out in the community–few people know one hundred people that meet the qualifications–and meet your fellow citizens. That’s what I’ve enjoyed most about the process.
My signature collection process has been very strategic. First, I privately asked people who knew me best and could offer friendly advice about the process and suggest how I could clarify my message. I then went public with a booth at the Memorial Day festivities downtown to meet a broad range of people (most of whom weren’t from Rockville, but it gave me insights into who visits and shops). Now I’m going door-to-door to various neighborhoods to meet registered voters, starting with my own neighborhood of Twinbrook. Here’s what I learned so far: Continue reading →