Mayor's Report for February 2002
Annual State of the Town
By Mayor Michael Herman
2001 has been a challenging year for our nation and our community. An impending recession was facing local governments throughout our nation. Localities began to prepare for budget shortfalls. Large states began preparing for severe budget cuts recognizing revenues would decrease. Our town's newly elected government worked with vigilance to adopt a realistic budget which would change the course for our town. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2001, the town experienced the largest operating deficit in town's history with more than $400,000 of expenses without any supporting money. The new council acted swiftly to prevent a similar fate in the current fiscal year, and I am pleased to report that for the end of the calendar year, our expenses are $170,000 below current revenues. What was initially a projected $449,000 deficit may result in a small surplus to the residents at the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Fiscally, our town is getting its house in order, and this must be the first order of business for this government. We have met that challenge and are finding ways to streamline our budgeting to make each and every precious taxpayer dollar provide the maximum impact for our residents. Finance Committee Chairman Guy Tiberio has done a tremendous job constantly reviewing expenditures to ensure that wasteful spending does not occur.
On September 11, our community and the nation as a whole saw the staggering impact of acts of terrorism toward our nation and our people. As we come to grips with our anguish, we are forever reminded that we must carry on. That is the fate of our country and its resilient residents. In our community many residents answered the call. People gave blood, assisted with food drives, gave money to relief efforts, and flew the stars and stripes to reflect our solidarity with our fallen brothers and sisters. We paid homage to the great nation and all that it stands for. The impact financially and psychologically for our town is real. The state is attempting to reprogram money previously earmarked for important programs in order to assist with emergency preparedness. Recently, even our $300,000 community legacy grant was potentially jeopardized as the state sought every means possible to save money. Fortunately, the events of September 11 have not yet hurt us financially. It has, however, affected us in our personnel. As we speak, a dispatcher and an officer were called up to military duty. Their tour may be lengthy, but we will hold these positions open so that they may resume their semblance of a normal life upon their return which we hope is speedy.
On Economic Development
This past year has seen the new emphasis on economic development. This month, the council selected a redeveloper to begin work on the long dilapidated town center properties. We are in the process of a complex contract negotiation with Douglas Development Corporation for the sale of the property, restrictive covenants to be placed on the property to prevent undesirable uses and to adopt a comprehensive design which will preserve the buildings and still allow for modification to make them viable retail shops. In addition, a new restaurant is going into the long-vacant McDonald's on Route 1. There is renewed interest in the dilapidated Route 1 properties that may soon see the benefits of the Senator Sarbanes Route 1 grant program. I have recognized the importance in economic development and selected Vice Mayor Chris Davis to chair this new and important committee of the Town Government. The town council wisely placed money in the budget for a deputy administrator who is soon to be hired who shall have a primary focus on economic development.
In this past year, we secured more than $1 million in grants for infrastructure and redevelopment, more than twice the annual figure in any year since the town was incorporated in 1920. The $300,000 community legacy grant announced last month is just one prong of our efforts. We have completed nearly 90% of the $800,000 Riverdale Road refurbishment program. Other streets including 57th Avenue in
Ward 6, 54th Avenue in Ward 2, and sections of Somerset Road in Ward 1 have all recently received construction work. We are also in the process of finalizing a contract with WSSC whereby more than $500,000 will be paid to the town to complete roadwork on areas affected by recent water main work, primarily for those residents in Ward 4 who have suffered immensely since the water main replacement program began last summer. We have been active and aggressive in pursuing money to minimize the impact of these improvements on town residents. The residents of Ward 4 in the Spring will reap the benefits of our patience and cost sharing program with WSSC as newly resurfaced roads will be completed with haste.
This fall, the town finally saw the completion of a two year rehabilitation of Kenilworth Avenue that has beautified the area and made the intersection at East-West Highway more user friendly. Recently, the Town Council adopted a resolution to support the proposed metro expansion of the Purple Line which will make east-west public transit more viable and which will have a stop in the Riverdale area. We are soon to see the expansion of the Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) program called simply "The Bus." This new route 14, as part of the 1995 Transit Master Plan, will bring small satellite bus service into our local communities from the College Park Metro station. This expanded service will assist many of our seniors who must rely on public transportation.
On Historic Preservation
This past fall the town completed work on a three-year effort to become a nationally recognized historic district. Councilmember Davis and I recently testified before the County Historic Preservation Commission. The application, which denotes an historic district that encompasses approximately half of the entire town was approved by that body. The application has now been forwarded to the Maryland Historic Trust which will hold a February hearing before submitting the proposal (with approval, we hope) to the U.S. Department of Interior. With any luck, this district will be nationally recognized by this coming summer. The effect will increase tourism to our national treasure, the Riversdale Mansion, and attract new businesses and homeowners to this area with increasing property values.
Under the able leadership of Councilmember Rebecca Feldberg (Ward 1), the town has embarked on its most ambitious effort ever to increase tree planting in the community. This fiscal year, the tree planting budget was doubled from prior years at her request. Beautiful mature shade trees were planted from west Riverdale Park to Madison Hill and everywhere in between. In addition, the town tree committee began a pilot project involving a public-private partnership whereby residents could purchase mature shade trees at a fraction of their cost to be planted in front and side yards. Next year, the town will expand this program to ensure that any resident wanting to expand our local tree canopy can afford a tree. In future years, the town will seek to adopt a tree ordinance and become a nationally-recognized green area under the Tree City USA Program. There has also been recent interest in beginning a gardening club which will help maintain and beautify our public spaces in town.
Other Items of Interest
This fall, the Town Crier began to publish a Spanish Page for our native Spanish-speaking residents. This initiative by Councilmember Jose Almirez (Ward 5) was a cornerstone of his agenda to make greater outreach with the Hispanic Community. Thanks to Susan Levy, a town-resident and ESOL teacher, our residents have greater access to information.
This fall, the town adopted the public streets of Madison Hill and will perform all maintenance on these thoroughfares in the northern part of town. We also saw the opening of a brand new tot lot on Silk Tree Drive paid for by the Park and Planning Commission. This ensures that children in Madison Hill have a safe place to play with the family and friends. Residents of Madison Hill have begun holding regular monthly meetings at the town hall in an effort to make Madison Hill fully integrated into the regular business of town government. We also welcome the election of Larry Tyce the new president of the Madison Hill Homeowners Association and the fine efforts of Robert Haughton as the outgoing president.
2002 begins a new year with new initiatives and the continuation of the excellent public services we have come to enjoy in this town. This year, the Council will be even more active in promoting community improvement through bold initiatives. At present, several projects and programs are on the agenda and more will follow. This year we will begin the redistricting process now that all the 2000 census data has compiled. This will ensure that the vote of every resident in town will be equal to each other. Some councilmembers, including Lissa Scott (Ward 6) and Cynthia Blaschke (Ward 2) have begun the legwork to establish a dog park here in our community. This year we will be working on the redevelopment of Route 1 and the gateways into Riverdale Park from both Washington D.C. to the south as well as College Park to the north. We will push for state enterprise zone initiatives for Kenilworth Avenue to promote quality economic expansion along this vital corridor. We will commence an ambitious agenda of public road projects, including Greenway Drive in Ward 6 and sections of 48th and 49th Avenue north of East-West Highway, as well as other roads throughout town. We will see the end of the WSSC project and begin the resurfacing and reconstruction of many roads, primarily those in Ward 4. We will also be exploring annexation of commercial and potentially residential property east of town to expand our economic base and to provide tax relief to residents in town.
As we look towards the new year with hope and optimism, we do so with bold determination that Riverdale Park will continue to improve itself. These past six months I have witnessed unprecedented cooperation between councilmembers. This has allowed our Legislative Chair Cynthia Blaschke (Ward 2) to work on proposed legislation with dynamic input from all councilmembers. This has allowed our council and government to speak with a common voice as consensus is achieved through compromise and negotiation done in good faith. The past six months has been a learning experience for all of us. This year, we can expect greater activity and an expansion of citizen groups to advise the mayor and council on important matters of public interest. 2002 can be the best year yet for our community. With a common vision and commitment your government can and will achieve greater heights in 2002. You can count on it.
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