Town Crier for February 2003
State of the Town for Calendar Year 2002By Michael Herman, Mayor
Each year, the mayor is required to give a State of the Town Report to residents. As we look to the many states and towns throughout the country that have a deep fiscal crisis, our community enjoys an ever-improving quality of life. I applaud the efforts of our Town Council, Town Administrator and Department Heads for increasing service levels, holding down costs and finding innovative ways to generate additional revenues to pay for services. In the past year, many cities and towns have levied heavy tax increases to make up for revenue losses due to the recession. Through our innovative approach, we have not had to go to the taxpayers for additional taxes and have not reduced services either.
In 2002, we did roadwork on 23 separate street blocks, with work ranging from total street overhaul to sidewalk, curb and gutter replacement. We had WSSC complete numerous water mains to replace pipes that were nearly a century old. The total cost of these replacements topped $1 million, all of which was paid by WSSC. We completed a brand new road that will relieve congestion and allow safer entry onto Kenilworth Avenue from Quesada, Quintana, Patterson and 54th Place. Finishing touches will be done this spring. We also completed the one-mile stretch of Riverdale Road with decorative lighting and speed reduction improvements. Since taking office as mayor just 19 months ago, the town has done more infrastructure work than in the past ten years combined.
In 2002, the town modified some services and added others. Through adoption of the alternating trash schedule, our Public Works Department has freed up staff to work on other projects during every workday. This meant more leaf pick-up, grass cutting, tree planting and other beautification and maintenance of public areas. During the year, the town purchased long-needed equipment at the request of our new Director of Public Works, Jim Houser. One new truck and two new leaf collection machines have made a tremendous difference to service delivery.
Through the leadership of Councilmember Feldberg and the Tree Committee, the town took action to double its tree-planting budget, obtain a $10,000 tree-planting grant from the state, and plant nearly 100 healthy shade trees this year. An employee is now certified as a tree care expert, a first for our community. This year, the town adopted the public roadways in Madison Hill to ensure continued maintenance of all roads and sidewalks. We also completed an extensive sidewalk construction project to improve pedestrian safety in Madison Hill.
This past fall, for the first time, we began an apartment inspection program, which will inspect all 950 apartment units in town at least once every two years. This is our way to guarantee that no resident is forced to live in conditions that do not meet county housing and habitability codes. The town also enhanced its code enforcement staff. Under the Direction of Police Chief Thomas Evans and Lieutenant Christopher Clites, code enforcement is now based on specific code complaints and supported by proactive enforcement through routine patrolling. There is also a cooperative effort between the code enforcement staff, public works staff, and police officers to identify code violations throughout the community. This unprecedented level of cooperation is improving the appearance of our neighborhoods and making compliance a major priority.
When first elected, I emphasized the importance of economic development and created a new council committee, chaired by Vice-Mayor Chris Davis, focused solely on economic development. The continued well-being of our town hinges on our economic development success. In light of this, this year we hired a deputy town administrator, Krista Baker-Hernandez, who spends at least half of her time on economic development. She has recently completed a survey of all commercial space in the town to help us market vacant space for suitable use. To grow our business in the new town center, the town and many devoted volunteers along with the assistance of planning staff from MNCPPC, recently completed a proposed Mixed-Use Town Center (MUTC) plan for the areas near the train tracks and extending to the Route 1 corridor. The MUTC plan will go before the County Council this spring and will provide a new, more refined tool for economic development in these commercial areas by permitting a more balanced and sensitive approach to zoning and development.
This fall, the fruits of our labor began to pay off as construction broke ground on eight long-vacant buildings in the town center. Earlier in the year, we sold these buildings for $300,000 to Douglas Development Corporation. New businesses should begin occupancy this spring, timed nicely to the opening of the 6th season of the Farmer's Market. In addition, the final details are now being discussed for the placement of the Eckerd drug store at the intersection of Route 1 and East-West Highway. Demolition and construction will begin this spring, bringing jobs and an estimated $500,000 in revenues to the town over the next decade. We are also completing negotiations on a new three-story office building for the Route 1 corridor near the Subway store.
Recently, the federal government approved our two historic districts, recognizing the historic significance of our community and the many historic homes located here. This will be a tremendous tool for improving the local economy and boosting home values.
Closely tied to economic development is the need to improve the revenues for the town. By increasing home values and making our commercial areas more viable, the town stands to increase its revenues in the long run. However, these revenues will not be realized for a few years as our economic development initiatives begin to take hold. In the meantime, this past year we have increased revenues in other ways. The annexation of the Kenilworth Office Park will bring in an additional $25,000 in annual revenues. The proposed annexation of a subdivision off Good Luck Road will also expand the tax base. The town also received a one-time revenue boost from its sale of the town center properties, as well as a $300,000 Community Legacy grant from the State of Maryland, which has been set aside in an economic development trust fund. This year, we also received $200,000 for storm drain projects throughout the town. We also finalized contracts to bring nearly $450,000 into the town treasury to pay for street repairs caused by WSSC's water line replacement contract. With the assistance of our Finance Chair, Guy Tiberio, who conducted several finance committee meetings during the spring budget process for FY 2002-2003, we were able to adopt a balanced budget. Due to shrewd negotiating and careful fiscal management, the town will operate this year with a small surplus instead of the projected $250,000 deficit that was anticipated when the budget was adopted in June 2002.
Much of the work that has begun over the last 19 months will be nearing completion in the coming year. From the town center refurbishment, two new buildings on Route 1, façade improvements to several Route 1 buildings, shared parking improvements for several businesses in the new MUTC, and adoption of the new MUTC, to apartment building improvement, road improvements, final adoption of the new redistricting plan, and many others, 2003 is also going to be an exciting year. While constant improvements must always be made, the future is bright.
Of great concern, however, are the national economy and the state budget. Our municipal revenues are tied to state and county resources, which are now under strain due to the recession. Aid to municipalities from the state will be lower this year, and year-end projections by the state are for a 9% reduction in state income tax revenues. In addition, recent property acquisitions by the University of Maryland have taken several large tracts of land off of our taxable property rolls, resulting in reduced revenues. Collectively, these factors make it less likely that the town will be able to balance its budget in the next few years, unless there is significant revenue enhancement from other sources.
Indeed, the state of the Town of Riverdale Park is good. The town's elected officials and staff have worked hard this year to balance a budget in very trying times. While we will continue to work to increase revenues from outside sources and build a strong local economy, troubling times are still ahead. As we navigate the fiscal minefields, we cannot diminish the excellent levels of service we have come to enjoy and expect in this town.
-Michael Herman, Mayor
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