Mayor's Report for July 2001
By Michael Herman
On June 4, a new mayor and council were sworn in by Prince George's County Clerk of the Court Rosalyn Pugh. On behalf of the entire town, I want to thank those outgoing elected officials, Ann Ferguson, Mary Donaldson, and Deborah Gross for their years of service to Riverdale Park. I also welcome new councilmembers Rebecca Feldberg (Ward 1), Cynthia Blaschke (Ward 2), and Jose Almirez (Ward 5). I join my council colleagues in thanking all of the nearly 1,000 residents who took the time to vote in our May 5 elections.
The town is now poised to begin an era of unprecedented economic growth and redevelopment, while at the same time facing some serious budget constraints. This month the town acquired the long-vacant (since 1986) commercial buildings in the Town Center in Ward 4 and will soon undertake an engineer's study to determine the condition of the properties. This fall we hope to begin the restoration and redevelopment of this vital commercial space (see related story on page 5). In addition, we are reviewing our governmental structure to find a way to make economic development a cornerstone of our future. One immediate goal is to hire an assistant town administrator, whose primary function will involve economic development, grant writing, and business recruitment and retention. This position had been budgeted in the past fiscal year but has remained vacant for nearly six months. In recognition of her many years of service to the town and involvement with the town's citizen advisory committee on the Town Center, on June 4 I appointed Ward 4 Councilmember Chris Davis as vice-mayor and chair of the town's new Economic Development Committee.
Some other changes are soon to occur in how the town conducts its business. I have begun efforts to move code enforcement operations from the office of the mayor into a civilian-controlled group at the Police Department. Under the direction of a civilian employee, the code enforcement operations will be conducted without any political influence by me or any council- members. I have taken this action to restore the public confidence that code enforcement will be fair and thus blind to any political loyalties in town.
Economic Condition of the Town
It has been widely reported that the town is in the best financial condition ever in its 81-year history. I wish this were the case. Many neighboring towns have been forced to leave positions vacant in their government due to a budget crisis caused by increased labor and administrative costs, while their revenues have remained largely unchanged. Many have imposed substantial tax increases in the past two years to avert financial disaster. The former mayor of Riverdale Park proposed a budget on May 1 for FY2001-2002 (beginning July 1) with a projected deficit of $447,000, or nearly 13% of the total budget. This would have been the largest deficit in the town's history. Given the current level of cash reserves and estimated deficit for the fiscal year ending June 30, without increased revenues or radical reductions in labor costs and services (i.e., furloughing employees), the town would have been bankrupt in less than 18 months had it adopted the proposed budget.
Given this dire situation, the town council on June 11 unanimously adopted a resolution to establish a special assessment to pay for the debt servicing on the town's capital equipment. Historically, the town has used special assessments to pay for any long-term financed items such as major road projects, building construction, and vehicles. This modest increase combined with prudent budget cuts reduced the proposed deficit to $45,000, or about 90% from the originally proposed $447,000. The assessment will cost the homeowner of a house valued at $125,000 approximately $64 per year. If that person itemizes his or her tax returns, the effective increase will be approximately $42, or less than $1 per week.
Although no government is eager to increase fees on its residents, the council felt unanimously that this was one of several steps needed to avert a financial crisis. The council also adopted belt-tightening for the next year without having to furlough any employees, who are the town's most valuable asset. Raises for employees will not be as generous as in previous years. Greater controls will be put in place to reduce materials and utility costs without reducing services. Proposed increases in staff levels were eliminated from the budget. All three areas of the town government (police, public works, and general government) were subject to cost-savings measures. Copies of the adopted budget are available at the Town Hall.
Increased Cooperation Between Town Officials
Over the past few weeks the mayor and council have had more than 20 meetings discussing issues as diverse as the budget, road projects, government restructuring, group homes, personnel matters, and others. If the past few weeks are an indication of our work habits, a new era of governing--and of respectful cooperation--has arrived. I hope that this cooperation between and among town officials and residents becomes the hallmark of the current council term and that we can all work together to achieve our common goals and to further the interests of all residents. Although there have been some disagreements, the full council appears ready, willing, and able to work together.
Committee responsibilities are the following:
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