HYATTSVILLE – Budget discussions have officially begun in Hyattsville and the first council work session on the matter already covered nearly $700,000 in additional funds for both capital and operating projects. The first few in a long list of budget proposals came before the Hyattsville City Council Monday during its first budget work session. The […]
HYATTSVILLE – Budget discussions have officially begun in Hyattsville and the first council work session on the matter already covered nearly $700,000 in additional funds for both capital and operating projects.
The first few in a long list of budget proposals came before the Hyattsville City Council Monday during its first budget work session. The council heavily discussed seven proposals before ending its meeting and moving discussion of the other six items on the agenda to a January work session.
“The goal for this evening’s meeting is to give all colleagues the opportunity to hear from those who have made proposals for the upcoming budget for (fiscal year) 2019, to answer any questions of each other, and to hopefully get a consensus on how we want to move forward on any or all of the items, or none,” Mayor Candace Hollingsworth said.
The proposals before the council included several capital improvements projects, initiatives based on public safety, and ideas to improve and expand social programs. Overall the council talked about more than $700,000 in additions to the previous year’s budget spread across the capital and operational budgets.
While they were not the first items discussed, the budget initiatives the council spent a large chunk of the meeting hashing out were feelings on two proposals that some on the council felt could be combined. Those budget requests were from Ward 5 Councilwoman Erica Spell and Hollingsworth.
Spell’s proposal included an ask of $25,000 and one full-time position to expand the Hyattsville Teen Program restarted by Hyattsville Police Sgt. Suzie Johnson over the past summer. The club was held three times a week during the summer at Magruder Park and once a week when school started.
“The idea was to provide a place for teens to go during the evenings during the summer when there was no school and there could be many things to get into,” Spell said. “This (proposal) really formalizes the program in a way. It builds on what is there, some the relationships that have already been established, some of the programs that have already taken place and will hopefully be continued.”
Hollingsworth’s proposal is for the city to invest $550,000 into a teen and young adult lounge at the University Town Center. The request is specifically to spend $350,000 to renovate a part of the town center, next to the temporary library site, and set aside around $200,000 for operational costs that include around 2.5 full-time equivalent positions.
“Several jurisdictions host teen lounges that serve as a safe space that allows teens to hang out, study and play in a supervised environment. This space would serve a similar purpose by not only having a more permanent home and consistent staffing to expand operations of the now re-established ‘Teen Club,’” a memo on the proposal reads.
A new teen longue would be open five days a week after school and would hold a variety of different space within, including places to study, play and even perform.
The city received a “verbal commitment” from the owner of the town center to use the 2,800 square feet of space at the cost of $9 per square foot for five years. Hollingsworth believes this route will give the city the opportunity to support the youth throughout the city in a variety of ways, and opens up the possibility of using multiple venues throughout the city for youth services.
Councilman Bart Lawrence agreed, saying he saw the mayor’s proposal as more comprehensive while others felt the proposals were not mutually exclusive.
However, while some on the council wanted to see the two proposals combined, Spell expressed hesitancy on the merger. Her concerns included the city seeking to renovate a private space when it already has public spaces it could utilize, and she felt moving the Teen Club to the University Town Center and taking it out of the hands of the city police would take away part of the appeal of the program.
Councilman Robert Croslin agreed.
“I think part of the draw for some of these teens to actually show up is the fact that it is at Magruder Park,” he said. “There are games and activities they can actually play outdoors there in a supervised setting, which would not be available at the UTC.”
But Hollingsworth pushed back saying her proposal would benefit more than just the teenagers interested in the outdoors and sports.
The council did not come to a consensus on the proposal and agreed for the discussion “to be continued” at a later date.
Other proposals before the council Monday included Councilman Edouard Haba’s request for safety improvements along Nicholson Street, on 31st Avenue, Lancer Drive and Madison Street. He asked for “appropriate funding” for stop signs and speed mitigation.
But while street safety and road improvements is something the council feels is a worthy budgetary cause, Councilwoman Shani Warner pointed out the city is in the middle of a citywide traffic study and suggested the council hold off on making budget requests for speed and road safety until the study is complete.
Public Works Director Lesley Riddle said she was unsure if tangible results from the study would be available in time for budget decisions, but City Administrator Tracey Nicholson assured the budget would have money set aside for actions based on the study’s results.
The proposal was moved forward.
In another proposal, the council also agreed to set aside $2,600 for a summer literacy program at two local elementary schools in case the county council denies their grant request. The organization has agreed to pay the city back for any amount funded by the county.
Haba’s other two proposals – one about a restroom facility at Heurich Park and the other for community event grants – were not accepted by the council, though further action is in the works for the park restroom.
“There is not an actual bathroom facility. What you have there is a portable toilet that is there and that is only on the backend,” he said. “We don’t have a clean bathroom facility where you can wash your hand with running water.”
Riddle said the public works department has worked on an estimate for the restroom and said it would cost about $70,000 for a pre-constructed facility and all the work required to install it.
However, the park is part of the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission system and is therefore county property. With that knowledge many on the council said they are hesitant to pay for a facility on county land and the council agreed to draft a letter to the county requesting funding for a facility.
Hollingsworth said, with seven months left until their budget is finalized, the city has time to wait for a response before deciding to add the facility request to the budget.
The last budget initiative proposal discussed at the meeting was the mayor’s idea for a Corridor Development Program, which would help the city support “projects that help market the corridor, improve the façade and/or recruit new business to the city.”
Hollingsworth said the initial idea, brought up during community meetings about the budget, called for $15, 000 for such a program, but she felt more funding was necessary and suggested $100,000.
The program would be a two-times-a-year grant program that would help fund community events with three or more businesses involved, help with lease costs for new businesses, fund business support services and fill the gaps of the city’s façade improvement program by helping business without large amount of capital make external improvements to their buildings.
“We have a number of vacant storefronts or we have businesses that seem to be unsupported in some way,” Hollingsworth said. “It honestly isn’t just for that business owner, because the business owners are conducting business as they are in the building as it is and they have customers in the building as it is. The façade improvement is about being a catalyst for other development along the corridor and other investments to be made.”
The program would be targeted at the city’s three main commercial corridors and targeted for minority and woman-owned businesses or new businesses to the city that offer services not currently available.
Council members said they were uncomfortable with the $100,000 proposal and the number was brought down to a compromise of $25,000.
The budget priority was then moved forward.