Celina and I have been very busy over the holidays so this is a long update, but we want to make sure folks are apprised of all the work that is going on around town.
To talk more about the topics below (or anything else for that matter), please join us at the Waterhole Saturday, January 19, at 10am. We hope to see you there.
And before we get to the updates, we wanted to make one plug for the Recreation Committee's t-shirt design contest. Residents are encouraged to design a t-shirt that visually describes what "Building Community in Mount Rainier in 2019" means to you. Designs are due by 5pm, January 25, and can be emailed to RecreationCommittee@MountRainierMD.org. You can find more information here.
Now on to the updates . . .
Note From Luke
I’ve got some great news on two important projects I've been working on for awhile, plus updates on several new proposals I believe will help lay the groundwork for more long-term, strategic thinking about how we operate as a city.
Our short, medium, and long-term vision for stormwater management took another step forward. A few weeks ago, we were notified that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Prince George’s County grant program awarded Mount Rainier over $180,000 for the construction of a bioretention system at the intersection of 33rd and Bunker Hill. This system will filter stormwater through several layers of native planting and rock before the water enters the storm drain leading to the Northwest Branch and, further downstream, the Anacostia River. This location was proposed by Toole Design in their prioritization for street and sidewalk improvements, which demonstrates our continued commitment toward implementing its priority schedule for infrastructure improvements.
We took two steps forward on the Memorial Park revitalization. We held a community meeting between residents and the graduate students from the University of Maryland who will be redesigning the space. From there, the UMD team built a survey for residents to fill out to provide their input for what they’d like to see on the park. Please fill it out if you haven't already. We will hold another community meeting later this month, but are trying to confirm the date with UMD. I will update folks as soon as that date is confirmed.
This all would not be possible without the cooperation from Menkiti Group, whose development abuts this park. They have kindly provided engineering studies of this whole block to UMD to assist in this redesign. Also, Pennyroyal Station, the restaurant slated to open in this development this-coming spring/summer, sent a member of their management team to attend our community meeting. By cooperating with the private sector, my goal is to balance the collective needs of the community for better public space with the needs of the business community to have a space that attracts more people to make sure their business can be successful for a long time in Mount Rainier. I think we can do both.
Parks and Art
In December, I introduced a long-term plan to improve city-owned parks by revitalizing one park every year for the next 3-5 years, while appropriating money for the continual upkeep of all our parks. And later this month I will propose creating an Arts Commission to, well, commission artwork around town (think murals on the sides of buildings in our business districts). At a combined 1-2% ($50-75k) of our budget, both are achievable. You can read more here.
Accountability in Operations
Setting forth visions for city services is all well and dandy, but it means nothing without an operational infrastructure to implement it. That is why I am most proud of my Accountability Resolution, which would require quarterly reporting from City Departments and regular evaluative meetings between elected officials and the City Manager. With quarterly reporting, citizens can evaluate our effectiveness at improving services. And with regular evaluative meetings, elected officials can better perform their most important job – i.e., evaluating the City Manager on improving those services. Taken together, these help us hold each other accountable by improving the lines of sight between the public, elected officials, and City Manager.
In looking back at my first 1.5 years in office, this addresses a weakness in how we operate – specifically, how we prioritize initiatives and evaluate progress. I know the slogan, “It’s all operations, stupid,” is not the catchiest, but after working in state, federal and, now, local government, I keep finding it true. A vote on this proposal is coming soon. You can read more here.
Celina and I have not made this easy on our City Manager by asking her to take a fine-tooth comb to our budget and find a way to reduce the tax burden on single-family home owners. While not easy, I consider this a necessary first step in what will need to be a multi-year conversation about how we tax ourselves. Read more here.
All A Part of Larger Strategic Vision Making
All of this lays the groundwork for us to develop a strategic vision for Mount Rainier next year. Strategic vision-making can fail without the proper operational support set into place. By establishing the proper lines of sight in place through my Accountability Resolution, and by starting to appropriate your tax dollars in a long-term, strategic manner, we can invest wisely in our shared community interests, namely:
- Proper financial accounting of our tax dollars;
- Improving and greening of our collective infrastructure (e.g., sidewalks, storm drains);
- Creating public art and improving our parks; and
- Economic development that seeks cooperation with the private sector by balancing the fiscal needs of a business with the collective needs of the community.
To some, this may sound like a lot. But if us elected officials can focus the few hours we have a month on these feasible goals, we can make our own little self-democracy work just a bit better.
Shout if you have questions – Lchesek@mountrainiermd.org.
Note from Celina…
We had a busy December and early January. Here is a recap of what we’ve been doing, and updates on a few things we will be working on.
Breakfast with Santa
In December, I hosted the first annual Breakfast and Picture with Santa, where nearly 100 people joined us. Each kid had a yummy breakfast, and left with a small stocking and little gift. I want to take the time to thank our Santa, Kristian, and 2 Elves, Vasni and Isabella, for volunteering their time and making the event extra joyful, as well as Janali and Danielle for volunteering. On Saturday, December 14, 2019, we will host the second annual Breakfast and Picture with Santa. It was so successful that we are planning to make it even bigger next December, with more fun activities for the family.
Stockings for Seniors
Both Luke and I had the opportunity to volunteer to stuff stockings with goodies for the seniors in our community this past December with the Recreation Committee, a tradition we also hope to continue into next year. If you know of any seniors in Ward 1 that we should include on the list for next year, please let me know so we can make the proper arrangements.
This past weekend we had two animal-friendly events that were supported by the City. One was the dog and fire pit event held at the Mount Rainier Dog Park, with the other being an, “Introduction to Caring for Outdoor Cats” hosted by Alley Cat and MRPD. Be on the lookout for both these events taking place once again as we continue to create an animal-friendly atmosphere.
Mount Rainier Scholarship Application
The application process for the first Mount Rainier Scholarship Application is moving along. At our January Work Session, we will be reviewing the application itself. Once agreed-on, we will post the application to the community. If you know of any high school student that is a Mount Rainier resident, please pass along the information to them. We will provide a link to the application on our next newsletter.
The staff has been working on the website with the goal to have it live by March. Over the next few work sessions, we will review the website developer's current iteration.
New City Staff
We welcomed our new Director of Economic Development, Ronald A. Hopkins, and Director of Finance, DeMornai Blackwell, as well as several new police officers, and a new Code Inspector, Angela Boddie. We are excited to see our City Manager get the chance to complete her management team.
Fiscal Budget FY20
We will talk about the FY20 budget calendar at the next work session, and welcome your attendance. Just like last year, we are going to be hosting a public hearing on a Saturday to discuss the budget so that residents who cannot make weeknight meetings can attend as well. Please let us know what your priorities are for next year’s budget.
Possible Expansion of Homestead Tax Credit
You should have received a new assessment of your home’s value which, for many of you, resulted in a 20% increase in assessed value. As you know, both Luke and I listed tax reduction as a priority this year. For the next work session, there will be a discussion on increasing the Homestead Tax Credit as one tool to reduce your tax burden. Last year - the first time Luke and I were able to have input on the budget - we lowered our tax rate, and look to do it again this year.
This also means that you will need to make sure you have applied for the Homestead Tax Credit. The city mailed over 200 bilingual letters to members of our community that qualified, but have not yet applied. You can find out whether you have applied by going to the State Department of Assessment and Taxation database: http://sdat.dat.maryland.gov/RealProperty/Pages/default.aspx.
I will also be hosting a Maryland State Department of Assessments & Taxation Information Forum on January 23 at 7pm in City Hall to address how assessments are made, and how to appeal. Light refreshments will be served.
As you know, the library is near and dear to me. Since the County removed its staff from the building due to the state of the structure, we authorized the use of contingency funds to test the building for lead and asbestos. With asbestos later discovered (lead was not), we also authorized the use of funds to encapsulate the asbestos and make other needed repairs. We will put a call out to the community to help us transfer books from the library to Potts Hall before construction takes place. If you would like to volunteer, please email me at Cbenitez@MountRainiermd.org.
We have also sent a letter to the library system’s Board and CEO, stating that we are committed to additional repairs if the library will return. The library system’s new CEO, Roberta Philips, took office the second week of January, and we are already on her schedule for a meeting in January. We will make every effort on our end to make sure the library opens as soon as possible, and there will be opportunities to volunteer and show support for our library.
There have been reports by various residents that mail is not being delivered or arriving late. If this is the case for you, please let us know as it has also impacted delivery of The Message. Council will be hosting a meeting with the Post Master along with the neighboring cities who are also experiencing delays in the mail.
We have invested close to $1 million on streets and sidewalks during the past two years, something Luke and I are very proud of. During cold weather, the construction takes a recess until the spring season. Once spring arrives, I have requested crosswalks on the Ward 1 side of Otis, Bunker Hill, and Perry Streets to help reduce speed. On Bunker Hill, Councilmember Shah requested that the crosswalk extend into Ward 2. Luke also requested a stop sign and crosswalk across Rainier Avenue at 32nd Street, something I also support. In addition, there are plans to create a four-way stop and crosswalks at 34th and Otis Streets to increase safety there.
Mount Rainier Overlook (Newton and 37th street)
The developer and architect met with Luke, myself, and the Mount Rainier Design Review Board (DRB) on their latest plans. It was a very successful meeting. The DRB wrote a letter recommending what Luke and I heard from the neighbors closest to this project – namely, that instead of constructing a sidewalk on the southern side of the parcel (which would be the northern side of 37th Street), that they instead finish the sidewalk on the southern side of 37thStreet so that there can finally be sidewalk-access to Eastern Avenue from that corner of the City. They will also finalize the sidewalk on Newton from where it ends currently up to 37th Street. This could not have been possible without the attendance and recommendations from neighbors at our last Ward 1 Meet Up on that very corner. The Planning Board has a meeting with the developer next week. We will keep you posted on the outcome and next steps.
MLK Day of Service
MLK Day of service will be held on Monday, January 21. Be on the lookout for opportunities in our community to volunteer.
TPS Alliance will be hosting the Peoples Summit in DC on February 10-13. If you are a TPS holder from the 13 TPS countries including: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Sudan, Nicaragua, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leon, Guinea, South Sudan, or a Child of TPS Parent or supporter mark your calendar and register at https://goo.gl/forms/J2HcGpMhViHd3mUt1.
. . . Well, that is all for now. We hope you had a great transition into the New Year, and please email us with any questions!
Believe in Community. Together We are Stronger.
-Luke and Celina