We have a full agenda for our Council meeting this week, with a lot on the agenda from last week’s worksession. We will also be voting on the FY 11 budget, which I’ve discussed quite a bit on this listserve. If you have any final questions or comments about the proposed budget, please let me know before tomorrow night! Since we already had a public hearing on the budget, the Council will only accept comment on any proposed amendments to the budget.
First, though, a RECAP OF LAST WEEK’S DISCUSSION WITH BOARD OF EDUCATION REPRESENTATIVE HEATHER ILIFF. Unfortunately, Board of Education representative Rosalind Johnson was recovering from an illness and was not able to make it, so we couldn’t really get answers to some of the questions I had that were specific to north College Park. Representative Heather Iliff, however, was there and able to answer some of my questions. She talked much about the difficulties that the Board is facing in terms of financing – even though the County is actually growing in overall and per capita income and losing students (causing a loss in state support), the County is getting less money to devote to the schools. As a result, the Board has had to make many cuts, including eliminating parent liaisons, increasing class size, and laying off teachers. I asked about the prospects for the expansion of Hollywood school, and Ms. Iliff responded that we need to continue to push for this, as there isn’t much money in the capital budget for the schools.
The City Council asked Ms. Iliff about what we should ask of candidates who are running in this year’s Board of Education election. Ms. Iliff is not running for reelection, and redistricting will make it so that the whole City will be in the district of her replacement. Ms. Iliff suggested that we focus on the candidate’s commitment to school reform, including the FIRST (or “Financial Incentives & Rewards for Supervisors & Teachers”) program, commitment to ensuring that school administrators are active in working with teachers in classrooms, and working to restructure high schools to better train students to enter the workforce or go to college.
Now, a summary of tomorrow night’s agenda:
1. PRESENTATIONS – RECOGNITION OF COLLEGE PARK’S OUTSTANDING ESSAYISTS IN THE MARYLAND MUNICIPAL LEAGUE “IF I WERE MAYOR, I WOULD…” ESSAY CONTEST – One of the pleasures of being on Council every year is seeing the finalists from this essay competition every year, when students from each of the city’s elementary schools present their ideas about how to run the City to the Council. This year, we have one student each from Paint Branch, Holy Redeemer and Berwyn Christian, and two from Al-Huda.
2. ADOPTION OF ORDINANCE 10-O-03, INCREASING FEES FOR RENTAL HOUSING OCCUPANCY PERMITS, PARKING PERMIT FEES AND METER FEES, AND PARKING FINES. As I’ve said before, the City is increasing a number of our fees to make up for lost revenue in other areas and to keep these fees, which have not been increased in many years, in line with inflation. The public hearing on these increases was held a couple weeks ago, and there was little opposition to any of the increases. Because these increases are minor and these fees have stayed constant over many years, I believe they will pass.
3. ADOPTION OF THE FY 11 OPERATING AND CAPITAL BUDGET. The City will also be voting tomorrow night on the overall budget, after two day-long worksessions, a public hearing, a town hall meeting, and much discussion on this listserve and in the community. I believe that the city staff and the Council have worked together to produce a budget that, despite significant revenue cuts, has only a limited impact to City services and no tax increase. Although the increased fees are unfortunate, I feel that the fee increases are the best way to protect residents and keep damage to our city to a minimum. I’m afraid we have more difficult times ahead of us in the years to come, and the Council may have to make more difficult choices in future years. But for now, we can maintain all of our City services at the same level. There are a couple proposed amendments that have come up since the public hearing – an amendment that Councilmember Perry introduced to eliminate funding to the Boys & Girls Club, and an amendment to set aside $3,500 for the Meals on Wheels program that I proposed.
1) AMENDMENT TO SET ASIDE FUNDING FOR THE MEALS ON WHEELS (introduced by me). I feel that the Meals on Wheels program provides a real benefit to seniors in our community, who are often on a fixed income. Unfortunately, Meals on Wheels has taken a hit from private vendors over the past couple of years, and has had to purchase a new refrigerator and other items to keep going. This small amount of funding proposed will help the program to keep its costs down for the seniors who use its services, and I hope my colleagues on the Council will agree to support it.
2) AMENDMENT TO ELIMINATE FUNDING FOR THE BOYS & GIRLS CLUB (introduced by Mr. Perry). I do not support this amendment. Like many other programs around the City, the Boys & Girls Club has taken a hit in its private funding as well recently, and we have already proposed cutting its funding almost in half this year. There are few programs available to teenage youth in our community, and I believe that there is a lot of value to extracurricular programs for youth that age. Some folks have expressed concern about the fact that the Boys & Girls Club has not presented its budget to the City Council in the past couple of years, and that there is little accountability. I agree with this concern, and I think it applies to all organizations that receive direct grants from the City. I asked the City to put on the June worksession a discussion of requirements for organizations that receive direct grants from the City, so we will be asking all of these organizations (including the College Park Arts Exchange and Boys & Girls Club) to come to present a report to the Council.
5. APPROVAL, WITH CONDITIONS OF THE DETAILED SITE PLAN FOR THE CHINESE BIBLE CHURCH. As I noted last week, the Chinese Bible Church on Autoville Drive North is looking to expand its facilities. The expansion would include a recreational facility for church members, classrooms, and offices. No residents have expressed concerns about additional traffic that the expansion would cause, and I understand from our worksession last week that the Church has worked very closely with residents in north Autoville to make sure that the proposed expansion will not have a detrimental impact on the neighborhood. There are still some matters to work out, and the proposed motion on the floor tomorrow night proposes a couple of changes to the Church’s detailed site plan to improve the architecture. One concern I have is the environmental impact of the expansion, given that it is located close to the Paint Branch and in the flood plain. We have asked the developer to consider using pervious pavement whenever possible and provide additional plantings to help manage stormwater on the property. All in all, I appreciate that the Church has worked with residents to make this project acceptable to the community, and I’m glad that we can work with the Church to provide additional recreational facilities.
6. APPROVAL, WITH CONDITIONS, OF THE CONCEPTUAL SITE PLAN OF DOMAIN COLLEGE PARK. The Domain is a proposed luxury residential development just west of campus, on land that is not currently part of College Park but it proposed to be annexed. The project developers have come forward with a conceptual site plan (a preliminary site plan showing what the general layout of the development will be and the relationships of various elements, including the residences, retail, recreational facilities and other amenities). The development includes residential and retail space on a 2.66-acre site at the southwest corner of Mowatt Lane and Campus Drive, and is based on a charrette held in April with the City. The development would include 258 units of market rate multifamily apartments and 11,000 square feet of retail.
The City and the developer had a disagreement over the interpretation of the required public amenities, and the City has asked that the developer, in order to ensure that it meets the required recreational amenities, place a public amenity, such as a park, in an area just adjacent to the development, with a pedestrian walkway to this amenity. The City has also asked the developer to change the architecture of the project, if possible, to make it less imposing at the corner of Campus and Mowatt, and to add a sculpture or a fountain to the streetscape. The City has also asked the developer to set aside right-of-way to ensure sufficient room for the Purple Line to come through on Campus Drive, and to ensure left-turn lanes into the development and the parking lot across Campus Drive. Although the project will add a dense new development to the west side of College Park, I feel that it is close enough to the university and is targeted to the university community, so it will reduce traffic by bringing people closer to where they need to go to work and study.
Finally, I asked last week about the developer’s intention to pursue LEED certification – which the developer said it would not be likely to accomplish. Unfortunately, the developer said that it is very difficult to achieve LEED certification for wood-based construction, which is apparently going to be the primary material for this development. The developer said it will still pursue LEED certification, so I will continue asking about this and seeing if it continues to do so in the development process.
7. ADOPTION OF RESOLUTION TO EXTEND PARKING GARAGE BOND ANTICIAPTION NOTES (BANs) WITH SUNTRUST BANK THROUGH OCTOBER 31, 2010. In March 2008, the City issued $9.3 million in Bond Anticipation Notes (BAN’s) in order to finance the construction of the parking garage on Knox Road – a tax-exempt BAN for $8.65 million and a taxable BAN (to construct the retail space, which couldn’t be done with tax-exempt funds) for $650,000. The BAN’s were set to expire on May 1, 2010, but because we have favorable interest rates, it is beneficial for the City financially to extend the BANs as long as we can. SunTrust has agreed to extend them until October 1, 2010, with the same low-interest rate.
8. PURCHASE AWARD TO METRIC PARKING FOR 13 “AURA” PAY STATIONS IN DOWNTOWN PARKING GARAGE AND LOTS. The City staff has negotiated a good deal on upgraded parking stations to put in the downtown lots and parking garage. At this point, the staff proposes trading in four pay stations (2 on the City Hall parking lot, and 2 in the parking garage), and purchasing up to 9 new ones (5 in the College Park Shopping Center lot, 2 on Lehigh Road/Sterling Place, and 2 additional machines in the parking garage). These new pay stations will resolve some of the problems that visitors have had with the existing pay stations – they do not often accept dollar bills and take a long time to process credit cards. This plan seems to make sense to me – these are the most commonly used lots, and the parking garage has already seen significant lines for payment at these stations, before Ledo’s has even opened. The funding for these pay stations will come from the City’s Master Meter and Public Parking Garage capital improvement project – mostly money from business contributions and parking fees and fines – and an $8,690 contribution from the IT department in the City’s general fund.
9. AWARD OF CONTRACT TO OPTOTRAFFIC FOR SPEED CAMERAS. The City has proposed awarding a contract to pursue speed camera installation in school zones around the City to Optotraffic, a contractor which Cheverly is now using for its speed cameras. The contractor would install the speed cameras in locations around the City, at no cost to the City, with a portion of the revenue from the speed cameras going to the City for road projects. The City will be able to choose between a number of sites that the contractor believes will generate sufficient income, and will be responsible for reviewing images of violators and issuing citations, but we should be able to cover those costs through the citations received. We will still have to hold public hearings before we place the cameras in any specific location, and due to the ordinance that the Council passed last month, we will have to wait until students are back in town to install any of the cameras. I will keep you all posted about proposed locations for placement of the cameras.
10. APPOINTMENTS TO BOARDS AND COMMITTEES. Thanks to Pam Toschik and Stephen Jascourt for agreeing to continue their service on the Committee for a Better Environment.
As always, please let me know if you have any questions or comments, and thanks for reading!