We had a good meeting on August 8th as a Mayor and Council in discussing folks’ comfort level with financing options for two of the big-ticket items in works with the City – the 3300 block of Rhode Island Avenue revitalization(including Memorial Park) and the Potts Hall revitalization next to City Hall. We hope these links to the designs are helpful for folks to see what we are talking about.
The consensus was that the entire team was nervous about dipping too much (or at all) into our city’s reserves. It is clear folks have learned lessons from past experiences – i.e., that an economic cycle does not last forever and we may be approaching the end of this one (whether one, two, three, or more years away, who knows). During the last economic contraction, the city was forced to cut services to help keep the lights on and key staff paid. For the next bump in the road, there seems to be consensus that the city should look to retain a healthy portion of its $3 million reserves, $1 million of which is already earmarked (although spending is not guaranteed) for an economic incentive fund set to be unveiled this fall/winter.
In addition, there seems to be openness to pursuing the 3300 block this year, depending on: (i) how much the State Department of Housing and Community Development is willing to contribute through the Community Legacy grant we applied for; and (ii) how much the city can sell the 3200 block of RIA for to a developer who can produced a mixed-use complex. Some are also comfortable exploring financing options should the dollar figure have a limited impact on future budgets.
For Potts Hall, folks are ready to plan for an extensive lobbying pitch to the state - both the legislature and Governor’s office - for funding through a bond bill or the Governor’s budget, respectively. In addition, supporters for this project will be looking to identify grant or in-kind funding that would help build up the funding for this project over time. The idea being that the project would most likely be funded over time with things like demolition, construction, etc., occurring in a piecemeal fashion. All of this, of course, still resting on the community’s comfort level with the same considerations that are at play for the 3300 block (e.g., how much will we actually get from the state, from grants, or what financing would look like).
There will be more discussion of both these items as the year progresses, as everyone agrees we need to hear more from the community on their comfort level with all these variables.
The conversation then dovetailed into our next conversation, which we hope you can attend as well. On Saturday, August 24, the Mayor and Council will meet at 10am at City Hall to discuss our priorities for the year. Both of us pushed to start our legislative cycles off with a conversation on our priorities when we first joined the Council a little over two years ago, and we are happy to see the Mayor and Council adopt this tradition for the third consecutive year. We believe this sort of long-term thinking can evolve beyond just looking at the next year, and get to a point where we are focusing more on where we want to be as a community over the next 5, 10, and even 20 years.
We also believe that, with a system of quarterly reporting now in place, we can start to identify the city’s priorities by department, with deliverables for each and every project assigned to each department, ultimately holding the City Manager accountable for seeing them through. Then, as the year goes by, we can get quarterly reports on those priorities and adjust budgets or projects as needed.
This way of doing business will then tee up the city well for the strategic vision making we are about to embark on as a community this year. That is when we as a community will be able to set our long-term vision for Mount Rainier. And with staff having then had more experience reporting out on quarterly deliverables, we will have an easier time transitioning a strategic vision into actual execution by setting project scopes and deadlines on a quarterly schedule.
It has taken a few years to get to the point where we are functioning in this fashion, but we are glad we are almost there. And while mistakes and road bumps will continue to pop up, we know we can get there together.
Finally, we know we’ve had conversations with many of you about your priorities for the year but we are always listening. So please send us an email – Cbenitez@mountrainiermd.org or Lchesek@mountrainiermd.org – with where you feel the city should be focused.
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