BOOSTING THE BUDGET
The nationwide housing slump hit Mount Rainier hard. In 2005, our median home sales price was $314,166, and in 2011 it had sunk to $137,700. This decline wiped out homeowner equity and decimated Mount Rainier’s budget, 60 percent of which comes from property taxes.
The good news is that we are recovering. Mount Rainier’s median home sale price rose to $170,000 for 2012. The bad news is that the recovery is not fast enough. As a result of the most recent tax assessments, our city faces a budget cut of approximately 10 percent for at least three years. The mayor and city council will be making difficult decisions about city staff and services this year.
As a member of the city council, I will propose or support budget-boosting initiatives including:
1. Annexation. Mount Rainier has fallen behind neighboring cities in the race to annex commercial properties that sustain municipal budgets. Annexation should be our first priority because it is the best way to insulate us from the troubled economy.
One of many abandoned, dangerous commercial buildings that sit in the middle of Mount Rainier’s principal business district.
I propose an economic development committee, working alongside the Town Center Design Review Committee and reporting to the city council, charged with seeking new development opportunities and identifying funding sources. The committee will ease the burden on city staff who already work hard just to run Mount Rainier day to day. Similarly, I propose investing in a grant writer so that our city doesn’t miss opportunities for funding civic projects.
The ghosts of large commercial buildings haunt Mount Rainier’s principal business districts along the Rhode Island Corridor, Varnum Street, and Queens Chapel Road. The Street Sense deal that will redevelop a block of Rhode Island Avenue will hopefully cause a chain reaction of renovation down the street. However, the deal is still being negotiated. Mount Rainier must be sure that any sale price or property tax concessions to the developer are in the best interest of residents over the long term.
The Queens Chapel Giant: soon to be history. Where will residents shop?
The Giant supermarket on Queens Chapel will also be closing soon. As a member of the city council, providing access to a quality grocery store for Mount Rainier residents will be one of my principal concerns.
3. Sharing services. Whenever possible, Mount Rainier should share municipal services with neighboring municipalities in order to use economies of scale to save money. However, the city should maintain its own police department.
4. Taxes. Taxes must be as low as feasible to provide services the people and businesses of Mount Rainier want. Property taxes should not be so high that they completely erase homeowners’ savings from lower assessments. Stagnant multifamily unit residence fees should be revised to match raised rents and then pegged to future rent hikes.
KEEPING OUR CHARACTER
When people cross into Mount Rainier, they should see immediately they have arrived somewhere special. Our city needs economic development badly, but we don’t need generic gentrification. Instead, we should pursue an intensification of our best qualities. If we don’t take control of our future, rich developers with no interest in our character or history eventually will.
1. The art community. Mount Rainier should make sure local artists are not pushed out by developers and rising rents when the economy improves. Downtown signs should point the way to the Otis St. studios.
2. The environment. Mount Rainier residents are environmentally conscious, and city government has made great progress in planning and carrying out green initiatives in recent years. Greater success lies ahead if we implement the recommendations of our relevant commissions and committees. Steps to a greener, more attractive city include:
Maintaining and enlarging our tree canopy and preserving green space: The Arundel Rd. levee improvement project will remove all trees within 15 feet of levee walls. We must press the county for full compensation for the ecological and aesthetic loss. Mount Rainier has the highest population density in Maryland. Parks and green space are at a premium, and should be created on available lots throughout the city.
Providing incentives for residents to opt for green driveways, building materials, and construction methods.
Pressing forward to make Buchanan Street between Chillum and Queens Chapel a “green street.” The city has already spent a $35,000 grant to create plans. A successful project should lead to additional green street initiatives.
Implementing bike path, storm water management, and other environmentally friendly plans in various stages of development.
Providing easy pedestrian access to all business areas.
The MRPD has reduced crime in our city, but needs more resources.
3. Public safety. The Mount Rainier Police Department has reduced crime in our city by 46 percent since 2006. I support investing in our safety and by extension Mount Rainier’s image and economy by fully staffing the department. Residents and future residents need a foundation of safety in order to build the city we envision.
We need to end the plague of purse and wallet snatching at crime hotspots and ensure safe passage for residents who walk to the West Hyattsville Metro Station and use our bus station. More officers will also help push the county PCP epidemic out of Mount Rainier.