Sunday, March 9, 2008

City Council Meeting 3/10: Preview

It's everyone's second favorite time of the month: the city council legislative meeting! The Mayor doesn't like public testimony at legislative meetings and truthfully neither do I, but considering that government is of, by, and for the people, it seems reasonable that folks can comment pretty much anytime.

To see the full agenda for the meeting, click HERE. Or, you can just read the succinct summary that I am about to provide.

This is the first council meeting in March, and according to section 6.16.010 of the city code, it's budget time! This is the first time in my limited political memory that the budget threatens to be unveiled on time (i.e. not illegally), and we are all shaking with anxiety. Let's have a quick contest--the reader who provides the closest guess to the actual 2009 operating budget will win $.65! My guess: $81.7 million.

The introduction of the budget is accompanied by the State Of The City Address, which promises to be fabulously unhelpful in explaining anything or signaling any policy.

Legislation To Be Voted On:

O-51-07: Permits For Minor Construction. This is the awful bill that proposes to charge $50 in permit fees to replace a $5 window screen. Quite egregiously bad.

O-52-07: Historical Markers Commission. I love this one--this bill establishes a 7-member commission to identify historical buildings, then authorizes the commission to fabricate at public expense audio and visual markers to place on the building to inform passers-by of the historical significance of the building. Ask yourself: is this the type of thing a "bankrupt" city spends money on?

O-53-07: Sidewalk and Street Closing Policies. Surprisingly, this seems like a halfway-decent ordinance. The bill first stipulates that streets or sidewalks may be closes unilaterally by certain department heads if they think it serves the public interest, with the certain people being the police chief, fire chief, director of public works, or the director of rec and parks. I don't quite know why the director of rec/parks would have to close a street, but fine. Then, the bill states that any request by an event, festival, or celebration to close a sidewalk or street must be approved by the mayor, and must include a plan for re-routing traffic. The city council may request a public hearing for that traffic plan, and may vote it up or down. I have decided to call this the "triathlon control bill", and I like it.

O-54-07: Electrical System Upgrades. Apparently there is a fund in place to assist businesses to put in sprinklers, and this bill would incorporate electrical system upgrades into that fund's purview. However, the agenda says that Alderman Stankivic intends to propose a revised version, so who knows what will happen.

O-56-07: Green Buildings. In summary, this bill indoctrinates certain environmental building standards for construction. Construction on all public buildings would have to meet silver LEED standards. Private construction--residential and commercial--that is new, or construction that increases gross floor space by 20%, or increases parking spaces by 20%, must meet a LEED "certified level" standard. All applications for construction permits must be accompanied by burdensome plans for the green building, including something fancy called a "LEED scorecard", complete with "LEED points". The problems are that (1) LEED standards for residential construction are not even fully developed and (2) the private market can do this without government intervention. Oh, and (3), what part of our lives does the government want to control next?

O-57-07: Updating Committee Responsibilities. This is routine housekeeping: a certain title of the code was repealed, so it also has to be deleted from committee responsibilities. Also, the APFO was passed, and needs to be added to the committee assignments.

O-60-07: Residence Requirements For Members Of The Historic Preservation Commission. This would allow 2 out of the 5 members of the Commission to reside in an Annapolis address that is not within the actual city limits. I suppose this is fine, by why only 2 out of 5? If someone lives in Glen Burnie, or Delaware, or anywhere else, but they have an interest in the history of Annapolis and they can come to the meetings/hearings, what the heck?

O-61-07: Grants For City Funding. This requires anybody asking the city for a grant to prove that they have 50% matching funds from private sources. Opponents of the bill have argued that private funding requires proof that you have obtained a grant from a government! I sympathize with the non-profits because I'm sure it's hard to raise money, but I like this measure because it is anti-entitlement and sends the message that it is not appropriate for government to blindly confiscate and allocate money to anybody and everybody.

O-62-07: Leasing Of City Property For New Year's Eve. "New Year's Annapolis, Inc." is the organization trying to succeed where first night failed, and this bill authorizes a 5 year lease with NYA. In accordance with tradition, the citizens get screwed. The bill expressly states that the city is willing to offer services at less than cost because they think it is better for us. So, in 2009 and 2010, NYA pays a grand total of $0 for use of all city property and services. Zero dollars! In 2011, they pay $1000 for renting the space, plus the lesser of $20,000 or 5o% of the calculated cost of police, fire, sanitation, etc. For 2012 and 2o13, they pay the 2011 cost adjusted for inflation--totally unrelated to the actual cost in those years! This sounds technical, but it really is terrible. The city justifies this by saying that it encourages locals to stay in town and promotes tourism, but why should they decide where we celebrate? My favorite part is where they politely ask NYA to be considerate of people who are too poor to buy their own tickets:

The foregoing fees are established with the understanding that NYA will continue
to develop a partnership with all of the people of Annapolis by attempting to
maintain and hopefully expand the activities the activities and performances it
offers to those who cannot afford to purchase tickets.

There is absolutely nothing legally binding about that--it's simply a feel-good line that the city puts in for itself and NYA will totally ignore. I love it.

R-07-08: Renaming a park "Commodore John Barry Park".

R-08-08: Capital City Arts and Entertainment District. The state runs a program for granting tax credits to artists and entertainers, and sets the qualifications for such. This year is apparently Annapolis' only chance to apply for this program, and this bill would set the boundaries of the district and formalize the application. There are the usual NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) arguments against, but for this bill there are also PIMBY (Please In My Back Yard) arguments being made by people who sympathize with starving artists. The important thing to remember here is that we will be giving preferential treatment to artists (as opposed to policemen, firemen, teachers, etc.), and we will be making more city property tax exempt when like half of it is tax exempt already. Sounds like fun! Somebody better send me a nice painting since I am paying their property taxes*!!

(*Actually, you will be paying their taxes, because I live in the county now.)

R-09-08. First Sundays Festival. Normal disregard of economics here: neat festival=waive fees.

R-10-08 Revised: Waving Fees For Maryland Avenue Festivals. See above. Also, provisions for alcohol sales are included, so maybe people will show up.

Legislation To Be Passed On First Reader:

R-11-08: Support For Sailing Hall Of Fame. As if giving a quarter of a million dollars when no money was needed didn't signal support for a sailing hall of fame, the city has offered a resolution saying as much. But, they "strongly recommend" that the HOF consider another site than the one that's next to Phillip's and DNR downtown. People who are concerned with historical preservation really care about this--as for me, I hope that (1) they stop spending taxpayer money on it (for goodness sake, Ted Turner is on the HOF's board) and (2) they have a parking plan for the 150,000 they plan to attract annually.

R-12-08: A Raise For Mike Miron. This one is not for the faint of heart. First, the Mayor created an office of economic development and appointed her friend to be the director. Then, she changed the charter to make this a full department. For some unknown reason, she then changed it to be called the "Department Of Economic Affairs". Now, the director of economic affairs needs a raise! For what?! Horseshit! Terrible. Once again, here's the entire economic development policy that the city needs:

-low property taxes

-streamlined permitting

-clear and consistent zoning

R-14-08: Designation Of Parole Neighborhood As A Designated Neighborhood. I'm not kidding--that's what it says. What will they think of next?

R-15-08: City Support For Mt. Olive Neighborhood BusinessWorks Program. Mt. Olive, for some reason, is Alderman Hoyle's pet church. She tried to change the MPDU program so that they could own rental units**, and now wants to express support for their dealings with the state even though it obviously has nothing to do with the city, except that the church is located in the city. I looked up her campaign contribution records and didn't see anything, but I tend to think that's just because I didn't look in the right places.

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