Showing posts with label FY 2017 budget. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FY 2017 budget. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mayor and Council spar over spending on Rockville seniors

Rockville City Councilmember Beryl Feinberg proposed designating $250,000 of the City's reserve funds for implementation of the Senior Action Plan in the FY-2017 budget. But her introduction of the proposal strongly criticized her colleagues, and implied that she alone was sending a message to seniors in the city that they are valued. The suggestion that other councilmembers were somehow not supporting seniors predictably did not sit well on the rest of the dais.

"I really regret the way in which you brought this up," Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said in response to Feinberg's remarks. "We are doing a lot for our seniors." Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr said the best way to help seniors was to be fiscally responsible in the budget, noting that Feinberg had proposed $2 million in new spending for FY-2017. She said she would not have voted for the senior plan in FY-2016 if she had not intended to fully fund it.

Mayor Bridget Newton, acknowledging that Feinberg's proposal did not have the votes to pass Monday evening, said that seconding her motion would not serve any purpose. But she added that it was "unfortunate" that a discussion on the issue could not be held without devolving into an "uncomfortable conversation."

The brief debate was a rare break in collegiality in this term, when this Mayor and Council have largely avoided the more-heated arguments of the last term.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Should Rockville eliminate long-vacant government positions?

Rockville City Councilmember Beryl Feinberg urged her colleagues to eliminate several city government positions that have long been vacant at last night's Mayor and Council meeting. Reasoning that the City has managed without those employees for an extended period, Feinberg concluded they could be safely eliminated, to constrain the budget going forward. She brought up the issue during an FY-2017 budget worksession.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Feinberg's Council colleagues strongly disagreed with her proposal that they discuss the possibility. "We need to stay in our lane," Newton said, referring to the City's Council-Manager form of government, which gives the City Manager purview over personnel. Councilmembers Mark Pierzchala, Julie Palakovich Carr and Virginia Onley agreed with Newton.

Feinberg stressed that no current City employee would face a salary cut or termination, as all of the positions are currently empty. Newton suggested that the vacancies may not be as clear-cut as they appear, and might not remain vacant far into the future. On the code enforcement position Feinberg cited, Newton noted that the shortage of such City inspectors has been to blame for delayed restaurant openings in Rockville Town Square.

Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau backed up her line of argument later in the discussion. He said one of the positions became vacant because that employee was on a military deployment overseas. Another is in the process of being filled. And Simoneau hinted that he might well fill some of those vacancies, and put those new employees to work where current staff are most-overtaxed.

With no support for her targeted proposal, Feinberg then asked for $300,000 in general cost savings to be found in personnel. She noted that in her years of government experience, she has not found government departments to be willing to voluntarily eliminate chronically-vacant positions. Simoneau candidly acknowledged that he would not seek to eliminate these positions at this time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Burden of Rockville water and sewer fees debated by Mayor & Council

A property owner facing $7000 in water and sewer fees from the City of Rockville even after rebates testified before the Mayor and Council during last night's Community Forum. During an FY-2017 capital budget worksession later in the meeting, Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said the city's increases in such fees are "unsustainable." Particularly hard-hit, Newton said, are those residents on fixed incomes such as seniors.

Newton has asked City staff to consider the possibility of transferring revenue from a cell tower atop a City water tank to the sewer fund, rather than its current flow into the General Fund. Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said that would not provide sufficient revenue to allow a reduction in fees. Newton said that $50,000 annually adds up to a significant amount over time.

Like the WSSC, Pierzchala said, Rockville is being forced to spend large amounts to update aging water and sewer infrastructure. "It's what we have to pay to have clean, safe water," he said.

A ring that is planned for installation atop the tank will allow for more cell towers to be installed. Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau said that would provide opportunities for additional revenue.

Pierzchala warned that moving the cell tower revenue out of the General Fund would mean taking money from something else in the budget. Newton replied that the difference is there are more sources of revenue for the general fund, while water fees only draw money from ratepayers.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Caregiver grants, cell tower revenue among Rockville budget concerns

Rockville's FY-2017 budget will increase spending by 2.2% to $126.1 million dollars, but property taxes will remain the same, under recommendations by the City's finance department. Deputy Director of Finance Stacey Webster presented the budget at last night's Mayor and Council meeting.

Savings were found in many areas, Webster reported, such as in taking advantage of lower fuel prices. Other costs have gone up, including the amount needed to cover new vehicle purchases across many departments. The City is also facing a major fiscal challenge in the Supreme Court's decision in the Wynne case, which will result in less revenue coming from the state to Rockville.

Expanded programming at the Twinbrook Community Center and Rockville Senior Center, upgrades at the Swim Center, and design improvements for the Croydon Creek Trail are among the expenditures that residents will notice the most. Rockville taxpayers will also face greater burdens as a result of Montgomery County's increase in the minimum wage. Public funds of $43,250 and $50,000 for temporary employees in refuse collection and Recreation and Parks, respectively, show that County wage boost has required greater public spending.

Councilmembers Mark Pierzchala and Beryl Feinberg raised concerns over the cost of caregivers funded by the City. Not all who receive City funding are keeping adequate records, Pierzchala noted, and he suggested that for next year they should be warned that such failure may result in termination of City funding.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton asked Webster and Finance Director Gavin Cohen if cell tower revenue from towers at a water tank and RedGate golf course currently going into the general fund could be moved back to the enterprise funds they were meant to support. Webster said RedGate is in good financial shape, but she and Cohen said the potential of reverting the funds could be explored.

One new factor this year is that the County is demanding the City pay its property taxes much earlier. Originally, they asked to receive them by May 13, but Webster was able to obtain an extension until May 17, the day after the Mayor and Council are expected to adopt the final budget.

Public hearings on the budget will be held on March 21, April 4, and April 18, 2016.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Rockville Mayor and Council discuss FY-17 budget priorities

Rockville's budget season is officially underway, and a preview of the FY-2017 budget was presented to the Mayor and Council at last night's regular meeting by Deputy Director of Finance Stacey Webster. Some information will not be available until the February 8 meeting, including whether or not tax increases - such as the property tax - will be necessary.

But if the Mayor and Council accept the general outline presented by staff last night, there would be a 5-6% increase in trash fees, and a two-cent hike in what commercial property owners at Rockville Town Square pay toward the parking fund annually. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton asked what that spike in trash fees would cost the average Rockville resident. Webster said it would be about $20 to $25 out of residents' pockets in FY-17. She said a number of factors led to the suggested increase, including a renegotiated city refuse agreement, new vehicle purchases, and labor costs.

Finance Director Gavin Cohen said the Rockville Town Square parking tax hike would cost property owners there about $12,000. He added that the new revenue would help cover the installation and adoption of "smart" parking meters.

Councilmember Mark Pierzchala, known for being well-prepared for meetings, identified a discrepancy in the newest unassigned reserves figure for FY-17. He noted it was now below the target established in the FY-16 budget. Webster explained that the number had to be revised due to new concerns about revenue, particularly in light of the Wynne decision and the recent mistake by the Maryland Comptroller's office in allocation of revenues to municipalities such as Rockville. The latter gaffe means the City will likely have to return an unknown amount of funds it mistakenly received from Annapolis.

In the context of those concerns, Webster said, she did not recommend the City reduce the property tax at this time. Councilmember Beryl Feinberg asked her colleagues if there was any inclination among the body to pursue a property tax reduction or credit for FY-17. There appeared to be no takers. Pierzchala said he was not only concerned about the factors Webster mentioned, but about the increasing forecasts of another national recession.

Webster said that Rockville is in a position to keep water and sewer fees flat this year, but cautioned against reducing the amount of unassigned reserves. She said the money that would free up would likely be outweighed by the negative message such a move would send to bond rating agencies, upon whom staff had impressed last year's increased commitment to reserve funding. Webster said those agencies expect the City to continue on that course to retain its prized Aaa bond rating.

With the recent election having just passed, the Mayor and Council also sought to deliver on promises made during the 2015 campaign. Newton noted that the Rockville Senior Center is in urgent need of both a full-time social worker, and a dedicated staff member who can help manage the aging-in-place Village programs being established across the city. She also pressed for one of her top priorities, increasing the number of police officers in the city. Newton said Rockviille's population, demographics and law enforcement challenges are not what they were 30 years ago. Rockville Police Chief Terry Treschuk concurred with the Mayor's comments. "It's time we had a frank discussion about the Police Department in this city," Treschuk said, "and lay it all on the table."

Pierzchala said he was hesitant to add signifcant numbers of new officers without first examining how current personnel are deployed and other efficiency options. Newton and Treschuk's remarks suggested that such analysis would be part of the overall discussion. But Newton argued that additions to the force are clearly warranted, with Rockville officers answering over 70% of calls within the city last year. She said Montgomery County officials have told her the efforts of the Rockville Police have allowed County Police assets to be redeployed to other priorities.

Feinberg brought up another proposal supported by several candidates last fall, the construction of additional recreation centers around the city. She suggested Potomac Woods Park as a prime location, because it already has utility lines running out to it, and existing recreational facilities in place.

Newton encouraged residents and staff to come forward with needs that could be addressed in this budget, saying it is important that the document reflect their priorities while maintaining the City's sound financial management.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville