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Mayor's Report for August 2001

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By Michael Herman

It's been a busy month for the newly installed elected officials. After getting though a difficult budget process, we hope that most of the difficult financial times are behind us. New challenges are being presented, particularly as we move forward with all the street improvements over the next several months. Below are some of the significant items that have come up in the past month.

Riverdale Road Update

Riverdale Road is presently undergoing a major overhaul which will provide a visually appealing and structurally sound roadway for many years to come. When it is completed, there will be decorative lighting, a new water main, traffic calming and new curbs, sidewalks and driveway aprons. The best part is that the diligent work by town administrator Patrick Prangley has allowed this more than $1 million improvement to be funded by various sources, including WSSC, the state and the federal government, but not the Town of Riverdale Park.

Unfortunately, the cost to the community comes at great sacrifice to our convenience. For the next several months, construction will cause delays, which are also enhanced due to the Kenilworth Avenue and East-West Highway work being done by the State Highway Administration. Fortunately, this work has been moving forward at a steady clip. The State Highway work is nearly complete, and milling operations have begun so that paving operations can be complete in the coming weeks. The new water main being constructed along Riverdale Road is almost fully in place, and WSSC will soon begin the lateral hook-ups to the individual properties. All WSSC work was required to be completed by mid October. At the present pace, we expect completion about one month early. As this work is being completed, three other contractors will begin the concrete and lighting work along these roads with the final asphalt overlay being done by early November.

Town Borrowing Authority Poses threat to Grant Monies of over $800,000

Under the Town Charter, the town has historically had a borrowing authority equal to 1% of the total

value of all properties in the town. When the county recently went to 100% property valuation for tax purposes (as opposed to the 40% that had been previously), the borrowing authority was adjusted to 0.4%, but remained just under 1.2 million dollars. The borrowing authority is used to fund town infrastructure, buildings and any other long-term debt obligations. For example the police building that was built five years ago for over $600,000 was funded by this borrowing authority. These long-term financed obligation are paid off over years, just as the mortgage is done for a private residence.

As of July 1, 2001, the town's indebtedness was $1,114,381. The town can borrow only the money up to the borrowing cap, and indebtedness over that level is illegal. With only $76,000 in new borrowing permitted, the more than $800,000 in public infrastructure work to be done this summer and fall on Riverdale Road is in jeopardy. This is why. Under state and federal grant programs, the town must first spend the money and then get reimbursed a few months later, after the work is completed. In the past, the town has received approximately $100,000 to $150,000 per year in community development block grants. The town had either enough money in its reserves or enough borrowing authority left to finance the project and then got reimbursed later. Since we were successful in getting so much money this year AND because there is so little in the reserves based on last year's $447,000 deficit, the town cannot lay-out the money and get reimbursed in a few months. While we are working with state and officials to waive the normal procedures, if we are unsuccessful, we will run the risk of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in free money unless the borrowing cap is raised. We have already received word that the procedures cannot be waived for the federal CDBG program. This program accounts for more than half of the total project.

The former administration had proposed increasing the borrowing authority to double its present level. However, only a 75% increase will serve the needs of getting enough money to complete the projects with a loan for only up to three months. As a result, a proposal will be advanced at the July 30 work session to increase the cap from 0.4% to 0.7%. As was stated the last time an effort was put in place to increase the cap, there is no tax increase associated with increasing the borrowing authority. In the present situation, the cost to the town will only be the interest on a short-term loan until reimbursement is made by state and county (approximately 1-3 months). Needless to say, spending $1,000 to $2,000 in interest to get $800,000 in free money is a solid investment in our future.

Code Enforcement

Effective July 16, code enforcement operations have been moved into the police department. As before, citizen complaints and concerns should be directed to code enforcement. Paul Paczek, the civilian head of information services will manage code enforcement operations working closely with code officers Jane Anderson and Ron Rifenberg. They can be reached at their new telephone number 301-209-1576. Mr. Paczek will be working with the police chief and code enforcement staff to establish a set of procedures to be used by code enforcement and to automate the operations of the department to allow better tracking of individual properties that have been the subject of code enforcement actions. These various steps taken will improve the efficiency of all code operations.

Herbicide and Pesticide Application

It was brought to my attention that the town applied a powerful herbicide in several locations in the month of June in certain public areas of the town. I also learned that this chemical posed a serious health risk to children and pets, as well as to the tributaries of the Anacostia River watershed. Thank you to the residents who alerted us to this spraying. I have signed an executive order to prohibit any herbicide application without prior authorization. I cannot presently envision any situation whereby future spraying will occur, and should residents observe any such future spraying, please alert to the town as soon as possible.

Regarding mosquito control, once again the summer months pose that ever present threat of West Nile Virus and the nuisance of mosquito infestation. The town has had money budgeted for mosquito control but has not engaged in pesticide spraying for a number of years. At the request of the council, we are exploring whether any of the mosquito spraying done locally can be done without harm to people or the environment or any insect species that do not pose any threat to the general health. Several residents have requested spraying and others have opposed any such application. While we are getting this information now, I cannot imagine such will be comprehensively evaluated for use during the present season. As more information is made available, we will alert residents to any council deliberations on mosquito control efforts. In the meantime, please take every precaution to avoid having sitting water on residential property as this provides the breeding ground for mosquitos, and consequently the carriers of the West Nile Virus.

Ben Slye Becomes Minister at Christian Life Center

On Sunday, July 8, Ben Slye officially began his new responsibilities as the minister of the Christian Life Center on Taylor Road. He succeeds his father David who was the minister for more than two decades. Ben is a Riverdale resident and has been an active member of this community as a coach for the Riverdale Boys & Girls Club for several years. We wish Ben and his wife Debbie all the best in this new endeavor.

Lee Donaldson Retires as Head of Public Works

Lee Donaldson retired as head of the Public Works Department at the end of June. For four years, he served as the head of Public Works and Code Enforcement. Many improvements occurred in the service to residents during his tenure. We wish Mr. Donaldson all the best during the coming years. Maybe now he can get out and enjoy the fishing boat without having to work on a schedule.

I have appointed Wilson Biado, the acting Assistant Supervisor, to supervise operations in the department until a new department head can be hired. There will be no reduction in any services due to Mr. Donaldson's departure. As always, you may contact the department directly at 301-864-1803 should you need the services the department.

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