We’ll be having our next Ward 1 meet-up this Saturday, June 29th, at 10am at the 37th Street Park. If it is raining, we will be in City Hall. Apologies for the late notice for those of you who did not see the Facebook event. We usually are better about getting that invite out earlier on email, but it’s been a hectic few weeks.
Speaking of hectic, we passed our second budget and are very proud of the end product. While improvements can always be made, we took several steps forward this year on both the revenue and spending side of the ledger. We hope the conversations we’ve started around taxing and spending will continue to evolve as we move towards creating a long-term strategic vision for Mount Rainier in the coming year. With that said, here are the highlights . . .
On the revenue side, we drew legal distinctions between the city’s property tax base for the first time – drawing distinctions between multi-family, single-family, business, and industrial property types for tax purposes. It allowed us to lower the tax burden for single-family, business, and industrial property taxes while raising the tax rate for multi-family units to the rate that existed for all properties a couple of years ago. There are lots of good considerations for both doing this and for being cautious. You can read more about those considerations here, and we will be looking closely to see how these rate changes affect our community over the next year.
With the county proposing increases in property taxes, it was important for us to address the alarming rate at which single family home owners are bearing the tax burden in our town and county. Opening up this issue for discussion also helps move us towards having a deeper conversation with the community, staff, and other elected officials on how we tax ourselves moving forward.
Streets, Sidewalks, Parks, and Trees
We delivered again on our commitment to appropriate at least 5% of the city’s budget towards sustainably improving our streets and sidewalks. Slowly but surely – through these consistent year-in, year-out expenditures – our shared infrastructure is becoming more accessible, sustainable, and attractive.
And with unused revenue from this fiscal year, we were able to meet a priority of many of our residents in funding to repair some of the city’s alleys that have fallen into states of disrepair. Folks should see (if they have not already) construction underway to repair Newton Street Alley and Church Lane, as well as the alleys between Otis Street and Eastern Avenue, Otis Street and Rhode Island Avenue, Rhode Island Avenue and 35th Street, and Rhode Island Avenue and Perry Street.
We also allocated money to develop a comprehensive parks plan for the city. This effort will build on the relationship Luke began last year with the University of Maryland’s Landscape Architecture Design program. The idea is to leverage the graduate students in this program to help us redesign all of our city parks. Going forward, the goal would then be to implement one park redesign every year, along with consistent funding for maintenance. The end result would be a wonderful park system for all to enjoy.
Finally, we allocated $27,500 in additional funding for tree trimming as last year’s allocation did not meet the demand for tree maintenance throughout the city. Our goal here is simple – promote a native urban forest and maintain it in a manner that protects the safety of residents and health of our trees.
Move to Community Policing
We adopted a proposed restructuring of our police department – transitioning from a patrol-based to community-based model of policing. This restructuring will provide our officers opportunities for growth, and build engagement with our business and residential community into how our police force does business. You can read more about the specifics of the restructuring here.
On July 7th, MRPD will start a months-long process to canvass the community to connect officers and citizens in a non-traditional way. During this effort, MRPD officers will go door to door to gain feedback from residents on issues in their neighborhood. The feedback that residents provide will be used in the Department’s strategic goal setting. So please don’t be alarmed if you see an officer walking in your neighborhood between the hours of 9am and 8:30pm! We just want to know how to better serve you.
On a related note, Celina, the City Manager, and Chief Morgan also met with residents on 35th Street to discuss recent criminal activity near 35th and Bunker Hill Road. Efforts have since been made to find ways to make Cedar Lane more secure by improving the lighting and lines of sight. If you ever feel there is criminal activity afoot in your part of town, please do not hesitate to reach out to us or MRPD.
For the second year in a row, the city allocated money for a youth scholarship program. This program was first put on the table by Celina last year, and we had the pleasure to celebrate the first five recipients of a $1,000 scholarship to help them with the cost of higher education. In reviewing all the applicants, you get a great picture of the amazing young people in our community. A special congratulations is owed to this year's recipients: Avery Alexander, Terah Carter, Osman Milla, Shirleah Ragin, and Genesis Romero.
For the first time ever, the city allocated funding for an Arts Commission to commission public art in our business districts. This legislation was passed by Luke and we are pleased to see it allocated properly in year one with $20,000 in funding. If you would like to join the Commission, please email Luke.
We continued moving forward with the long-term vision of stormwater management Luke put forward last year, directing that $15,000 of our infrastructure budget build upon last year’s $30,000 investment to help us inch closer to a more holistic stormwater management plan. These investments are helping us to partner with county and state departments to build a stormwater master plan for the city. Towards that end, we are pleased to report that Public Works was just awarded almost $75,000 from the Department of Natural Resources to assist us with this project.
Our Recreation Committee saw an increase in funding to enable it to better balance its dual-mandate: create and manage its own recreational activities for the community, and manage grant funding for independent organizations to do the same.
We also made a small $5,000 investment in the Community Garden to help with garden bed maintenance and water access. And we saw continued allocations to senior programming and all our wonderful committees.
Strategic Vision Making
We are very proud of pushing for a line item to enlist the help of a professional company to help walk our community through a strategic vision and branding exercise this year. With a talented leadership team in place, we feel the city is in a good place to start this process. Be on the lookout for community conversations on this topic as we move into the winter months, after a vendor is selected. Also, in future updates from us on this topic, we’ll start talking about what could be some building blocks for a strategic vision.
On the whole, a big thank you is in order to all the staff and community members who made this budget process a success. Many staff hours were put into this budget, and we used the feedback we have received from you over the last year to help with our decision-making process. We realize the responsibility we have to ensure your tax dollars are spent wisely, and will continue to keep a close eye on how the changes we make affect our community.
Finally, we’ll be spending the next couple of months talking to residents, staff, county, and state officials to help us set priorities for next year’s legislative and budget cycles. Please feel free to email either one of us to set up a time to sit down and talk about your priorities or join us at one of our Ward 1 meet-ups.
Luke and Celina