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In Spending Big on New City Hall, Let’s not Forget other Amenities Residents are Asking

First, I totally support the need to address the lack of space of our City employees in the current City Hall. The new City hall can accommodate more employees. Many of the Public Services employees will now be accommodated in the new Hall. They cannot be the Calvert Road site, as the UMD is building the Day Care Center there. I worry, however, that we’ll most likely run out of space as the City and its government grow in future.

That said, I ask if the recent large increase in the project’s cost justifies building a new $20.6 million City hall. As much as we should strive to address the employees’ needs, we should find ways to reduce the project’s cost through value engineering and other means.

Here is why we should worry. Our operating budget is rather limited ($20 million), thus the only way we can afford building such an expensive City Hall is by borrowing a significant amount ($12 million or so). This should worry everyone in our little town, as our next generation of College Park residents will have to carry this debt for 30 years to come. This may not be the case for our partner (in the City hall project), the University of Maryland, which has a 100 time larger budget ($2 billion). The bottom line is – just because our little town can borrow and spend, we should think many times before we spend and how much we should.

It’s true we’ll be getting some infusion of new revenues from new developments in coming years, but, please note some of these projects will not give immediate revenue. For example, we’ll need to wait several years to get revenue from the Bozzutto development because of the large tax break the Council gave to them recently.

Then there is a fear of nation-wide recession, which has been happening in cycles. The last time we had the recession was in early 2000’s. Though the economy is doing fairly well now, no one can guarantee when the next recession may happen. The City revenue from property taxes will go down significantly when recession will hit us.

Spending now on large borrowed fund for the City Hall project will also likely give many pauses to the future City Councils when they will be asked by the residents for more amenities in our town. Many of these are not new requests, but there will likely be more as opportunities arrive. Here are a few of them.

    1. North College Park Community Center: For more than 10 years, the residents of north College Park is asking to build a community center in the north side of the town. A survey few months back showed significant interest among residents – an overwhelming 94% favored for the center. With north College Park having the largest concentration of single family homes with diverse age groups (from toddlers to seniors), residents in this area want to see an activity center that has the potential to bring families together. The City has been asking the County to build the center for many years now, however the County appears to have a little interest in building one. The County’s 2040 vision asks to only build large regional center and not small centers in local communities. Unless the City invests capital funds in this project, either directly, or partnering with other public entities, there is little chance to see the center being built.
    2. Senior Center: The senior community in College Park are also asking a senior center in the town. There is a growing population of seniors in the city and a recent petition of several hundred seniors asked the City to build a separate center for them. Thanks to north College Park residents, whose advocacy has resulted in getting $50,000 from the County for senior programming from last year. Seniors however want more – a full time place that they can call their home and where they can socialize with other like minded seniors.
    3. College Park Police Department. College Park does not have a City police department. Though the public safety situation in the city has improved over the years, we can make the situation even better. City residents pay a significant amount of their tax dollars to the County to support PGPD – the County’s police department. Unfortunately, the PGPD operates on a very large jurisdiction, and their officers often focus on areas that need more attention in the County. The City has been spending more and more on its contract police program. We soon to have about 15 FTE in the program. Diverting residents tax dollars from the County to the City can help support running College Park’s own police department. A recent City-run police study has also recommended to consider starting our own police department. Unfortunately, starting a police department will need some significant capital investment
    4. Duvall Field: The Duvall Field project’s first phase has been completed and we’re going through the second phase. The early estimate on this new phase is rather high ($4 million). The Council will most likely borrow money to support the project. This will further tighten our ability to invest in future capital projects.
    5. Complete Streets / Rhode Island Ave Reconstruction: The complete Street project aims to connect neighborhoods using multiple modes of transportation, such as through biking, pedestrian walking, scooters etc. Staff has identified City streets that could improve the connectivity.  City has also started a project to build protected bike lanes on Rhode Island Avenue, north of MD 193. The existing funds will allow us to complete the design, however, we haven’t identified the funding source for construction. We’re also looking at owning the street from the County. We’re expecting the County to repave the road before they give it to us. We’ll need funds for the reconstruction if we decide to do the reconstruction and the County doesn’t agree to pay for the work.
    6. Baltimore Avenue Pedestrian lighting: The SHA has proposed to share the cost for installing pedestrian lights on Baltimore Avenue from College Avenue to MD 193, as part of the Baltimore Avenue reconstruction project. Unless we can provide it from City’s general funds, we’ll need to borrow along with other capital projects (City Hall, Duvall Field).
    7. Senior housing: Seniors are also asking dedicated housing units in the City, as they have special accessibility requirements. Other towns have invested in building separate senior housing / village. This could be possible either through public-private ownership, or offering tax incentives, both of which may need investment or sacrifices from the City.
    8. Attick Towers: The discount-rate senior housing Attick Towers needs some major renovation. The building is very old and rooms are small to meet the seniors’ needs. The City can help the renovation or redevelopment either investing directly or by giving them loan guarantees.
    9. Project X – There could be many projects coming in future that we do not know now. A property may come to market which residents may think suitable to bring some amenities there. For example, very recently residents asked the City to buy the College Park Woods property. The City did not think of acquiring this property until fairly recently. There could be other projects that we as a City, should be able to seize on, as opportunities come.

On some of these projects, many residents are already frustrated by the lack of progress or attention from the City leaders. Recently, I got this email from one of my senior neighbors telling about her final wish about building a Senior Center

If I die tonight, I want you to know that you are a great neighbor and council member.   I will do my best as an angel to manifest the miracle of a Senior Center in College Park.  Not only will it have an indoor heated swimming pool and therapeutic whirlpool, but free massages as well.  There will be a room full of soft, cushy recliners where people can relax and listen to the sounds of musical meditations.  There will be a free juice bar with delicious concoctions.  There will be the scent of flowers in the air.  There will be a gourmet restaurant with delicious cuisine from all over the world.  

I had similar comments from residents when I talked to them about other amenities. Seeing very little progress made by the current and past City Councils, some residents are rather surprised that we continue to talk about these amenities.

Here is what I want to tell to my neighbors and colleagues about tonight’s vote. Let’s exercise cautions tonight as we invest residents’ tax dollars in our new City Hall. Let’s help our residents to make their wishes come true.

I look forward to seeing you tonight at the City Hall and hearing from you. If cannot come, please send an email with your thoughts to the Mayor and Council at cpmc@collegeparkmd.gov before 5 pm today. Thank you!

 

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1 Comment to “In Spending Big on New City Hall, Let’s not Forget other Amenities Residents are Asking”

  1. By Mary Cook, April 23, 2019 @ 10:29 am

    I applaud your diligent efforts to assemble all this material in one place. The City has not even attempted to do so. I agree with all your points and will be there tonight to voice my concerns.