Montgomery County’s operating budget is in a deep, tar-filled pit, but Silver Spring’s citizens advisory board has an idea or two about how to fix that.
At its monthly meeting Monday night in Long Branch, board members proposed higher parking fees and a greater reliance on free labor to cover some of the projected $608 million shortfall in the fiscal year 2011 operating budget.
Board member Constance Wynn, of South Four Corners, said she’d be willing to pay $1.50 per hour to park in downtown Silver Spring’s public garages. That rate represents a 100 percent increase from the current $0.75 short-term hourly rate. Debbie Linn, a board member from the Sligo-Branville area, said she didn’t want to pay that much but was willing to take a $1 hourly rate.
Either way, it’s a problem, board member “Southside” Evan Glass, of South Silver Spring, and economic-development guru Mel Tull argued. According to them, the Town Square and Wayne Avenue public garages next to the Downtown Silver Spring shopping center have a 20-year agreement with the county to waive parking fees after 6:00 p.m. weekdays and all day on weekends.
That means the weight of any rate increase shifts to public garages in Fenton Village, South Silver Spring, and along Spring Street, they said. And that translates to bad news for neighborhood businesses that must compete with nearby shopping malls and their ample free parking, Tull said.
In addition to higher parking fees, board members suggested the following revenue streams: a county gas tax, a luxury tax, a fee for ambulance services, and no decrease to toll rates on the Inter-County Connector highway. They didn’t go into details.
Along with hauling in fresh cash, bridging the budget gap would mean trimming the fat, board members decided. The problem is, operations at Silver Spring’s regional center are already looking gaunt, Reemberto Rodriguez, the center’s director, described.
“The regional center has taken a 13-percent cut over the last couple of years,” Rodriguez told the advisory board. On top of budget cuts is the new expense of running Silver Spring’s civic building, set to open this summer, he said.
The regional center, which represents the county government’s executive branch in below-the-Beltway Silver Spring, already axed this summer’s “Silver Spring Swings” concert series from the budget — a savings of $24,000, The Gazette reported last week. Conversation during Monday night’s board meeting also mentioned an end to landscaping services.
And that’s where volunteerism can come into play, board member Marilyn Seitz, of Woodside Park, said. Area gardeners can pick up the landscaping slack in public areas, and local musicians can donate their talents to public concerts, she suggested.
The regional center’s Rodriguez, a proponent of “civic engagement,” indicated he was very interested in that.
The board’s other recommendations for cost savings included: outsourcing, deferred maintenance of roadways and other public structures, an end to tax credits for developers who add affordable housing to their projects, and an emphasis on having private companies sponsor public events. Again, they didn’t go into details.
With all the proposed slicing, dicing and julienning, board members said they weren’t willing to part with certain items: public safety, education, affordable housing, youth programs, mass transit, energy-efficiency programs in apartment buildings, and operations at the new civic building.