To the citizens of Anne Arundel County's Sixth Councilmanic District:
Thank you for the privilege of representing you on the for these past three years. I have always felt that public service was a noble calling and a worthwhile use of one's time. Serving as a council member has offered me a unique opportunity to help people, and I am grateful for your trust and confidence in electing me.
Today is my last day as your County Councilman. Tomorrow I begin a new challenge when I am sworn in as . Before I step down let me share with you some thoughts about community involvement.
Community involvement is the alpha and omega of getting things done. That's the long and short of it. If you as a private citizen care about an issue, the best way to advance your viewpoint is to personally get involved. Regardless of the issue -- school funding, development, taxes, public safety — citizen involvement makes a difference. I witness it every day.
Even unsuccessful efforts can make a difference. The year-long effort to enact a stormwater utility fund, though it fell short by one vote, significantly raised public awareness of the problem and moved the political center closer towards solving it. I am confident that it is only a matter of time until a future council makes it happen.
Politics is like water -- they both tend to follow the path of least resistance. The best way to shift the outcome of a political debate is to insert yourself in it. Get involved.
One of the joys of my job has been getting to know and work with so many of you who care about our community and take the time to get involved. I hope you will stay in touch and will continue to call on me if I can be of help. You will be able to reach me after tomorrow at firstname.lastname@example.org or . If you want to receive email notices of goings-on at City Hall, visit the MyAnnapolis webpage at http://annapolis.gov/myannapolis.asp?page=2819 where you can subscribe to different e-news lists. I also have started a new blog, www.MayorCohen.com, where I will be posting news and updates.
As mandated by County Code, my successor will be selected by a majority vote of the remaining County Council members. Several individuals have applied, and several civic groups are sponsoring a candidates' forum , December 9th from 7 to 9 p.m. at Annapolis Middle School. This forum will be a good -- perhaps the only -- opportunity for you to hear them in person before they are interviewed by the Council on Dec. 17th. Equally important, it will be an opportunity for the candidates to hear you.
I and the members of the next city council will be sworn-in tomorrow . at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. The event is free of charge and open to the public.
I owe a large debt of gratitude to my Legislative Aide Gail Smith. There is no one more dedicated, professional and committed to her community than Gail. It has been a privilege to work alongside her and I am thrilled that she will be coming with me to City Hall.
Thank you again for the privilege of serving on the County Council. My best wishes for a peaceful and happy holiday season.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
To the citizens of Anne Arundel County's Sixth Councilmanic District:
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Unusually tough times
"Austerity" is the word that best describes the FY 2010 budget. The downturn in our economy is affecting county revenues and requires significant spending cuts. This year's $1.18 billion budget is smaller than last year's by more than $30 million. On average, each department's budget is almost 9 percent leaner than last year. The notable exception is the Board of Education whose funding is a little more than 1 percent higher.
These exceptionally challenging times required Anne Arundel County to take unprecedented steps. We eliminated almost all "pay-go" operating funding of long-term capital projects, thereby increasing our long term debt service to pay for these projects. We zeroed out our planned $15 million contribution that was intended to reduce our future liability for retiree health care. We renegotiated union contracts to eliminate more than half of the previously agreed COLA and merit increases. And, for the first time in memory, we dipped into our FY09 "rainy day fund" to the tune of $16.5 million.
Despite these and other reductions, I believe we successfully prioritized spending to maintain essential services while minimizing the impact on the end user. The same thing I wrote about the budget process two years ago holds true again this year: Overall, the budget process was collaborative and it worked well. Although many worthy items were not funded, we did the best we could to balance different objectives with the money available.
The FY 2010 budget reduces the property tax rate from 88.8 cents down to 87.6 cents per $100 of assessed value. (The budget reduces the county portion of the tax rate for City of Annapolis residents from 53 cents down to 52.3 cents.) The reduction is required by the county’s property tax revenue cap, which requires the county to reduce the tax rate when rising assessments outpace the rate of inflation. With this tax rate cut, Anne Arundel County continues to have the lowest property tax rate ($0.876) and income tax rate (2.56%) of any of Maryland’s “big seven” largest jurisdictions.
Despite our economic hard times, the Standard & Poors bond rating agency maintained our coveted Triple-A bond rating. This valuable designation will save taxpayers money by letting the county borrow money at more favorable rates to pay for long-term capital improvements. This rating is due in large part to the county’s history of prudent fiscal management and solid, diverse tax base.
What’s in the budget
The budget contained almost no new initiatives. A few items of note include the following.
- In a huge victory for Annapolis families, the budget funds the full implementation of the Performing and Visual Arts (PVA) Magnet program at Bates Middle School this Fall. The County Executive's proposed budget failed to include the $800,000 needed for the Arts Magnet, but the County Council found the money from savings elsewhere in the budget. As I've written before, the PVA is a critical part of the plan to strengthen schools in the Annapolis cluster.
- Despite having to reduce Monday morning hours at some branches, I am pleased that the Library system found a way to stay open on Sunday afternoons at the West Street branch and two other regional branches during the school year.
- The budget includes $15 million to improve Bay water quality by funding enhanced nutrient removal of nitrogen and phosphorus at the Edgewood Road Wastewater Treatment Plant. This project is 75% funded by the State's "flush tax" -- our state tax dollars at work.
- The capital budget includes full funding to construct a new and expanded Germantown Elementary School. The new school will open in time for the 2011-2012 school year.
- Fortunately, the budget does not include closure of Annapolis Elementary School which was recommended by the County Auditor. The school is one of the last remaining community institutions downtown and is vital to keeping downtown family-friendly.
Property taxes are the single largest source of revenue for Anne Arundel County, accounting for 46 percent of all revenues. Income taxes are the second largest at 30 percent. All other revenue sources such as recordation and transfer taxes, permit fees and sales taxes account for less than a quarter of county revenues.
Education is the single largest expense for the county. Fifty percent of the $1.18 billion budget goes to the Board of Education. The next largest category is public safety: police, fire and corrections account for 20 percent. The remaining 30 percent of the budget covers all other services from public works to recreation, from the libraries to social services.
Labels: budget and taxes
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Plans for the new Germantown Elementary School are moving forward. Recently I participated in a meeting with House Speaker Mike Busch, Principal Walter Reap and several other stakeholders to revisit the agreement for use of the athletic fields behind Germantown. This athletic complex is a perfect example of how projects in Annapolis often involve multiple levels of government. The construction, use and maintenance of these fields are a joint effort among the City of Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, AACPS and the State of Maryland. Fortunately, this example is a positive one of how these levels of government can work together successfully.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) has retained an architectural firm for the Germantown Project. The firm has produced a new site plan for the fields and floor plan for the new school (the current site plan is HERE). AAPCS will construct a completely new school at the west end of the athletic complex. The school will be designed with all the modern bells and whistles including an expanded gym, and will become a real gem of the Annapolis school system.
Vehicles will access the school from Windell Avenue, not Cedar Park Road. To improve safety, there will be separate entrances for school buses and for personal vehicles.
Many people ask me about whether the Poplar Trail will still connect through to Windell Avenue. The answer is yes, the trail will be relocated adjacent to the new bus access road, and in fact that segment will gain a couple of more feet in width.
The Germantown project is the first of three related projects for Annapolis area schools that need to happen in sequence. Construction for the new Germantown school is anticipated to begin Spring 2010. The new school is expected to open in August 2011 in time for the start of the 2011-2012 school year.
The second project is to relocate the Phoenix Center. This project is contingent upon receiving local and state approval and funding. If this project is approved and funded, once the new Germantown is built, AACPS will renovate the old (current) Germantown. This building will become the new, larger home for the Phoenix Center which is presently at the other corner of the athletic complex.
The third project is to renovate Annapolis Elementary School. Again, pending approval and funding, once the Phoenix Center students move into the old Germantown building, the administrative staff at the Board of Education (Green Street) building downtown next to Annapolis Elementary will move to occupy the old (current) Phoenix Center. AACPS will then relocate the students at Annapolis Elementary in order to complete a massive renovation and upgrade to the school. The project will combine the current Annapolis Elementary building with the administration building to result in a new school with expanded capacity and upgraded facilities that meet current building codes.
For more information
Mary Patz, an architect in AACPS' Design Department, is the primary contact person for the Germantown project. She can be reached at 443-770-5966 or by email at mpatz [at] aacps.org.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
This afternoon the County Council took up amendments to the Fiscal Year 2010 budget. I am thrilled to report that the County Council unanimously delivered a huge victory for Annapolis schools.
1. Bates Performing and Visual Arts (PVA) Magnet Program
The County Council restored $800,000 to fully implement the Arts Magnet at Bates this Fall. The County Executive's proposed budget had eliminated this funding which the Board of Education had proposed.
2. Germantown Elementary and Annapolis Elementary Construction Projects
The County Council took no action on the County Auditor's recommendation to close Annapolis Elementary and combine its students into a new mega-elementary school complex at Germantown. Both County Executive Leopold and the Board of Education strongly supported keeping the two schools separate. The County Council's support for the Board of Ed's recommendation effectively assures that the new Germantown project will continue as planned with construction of the new school starting next year. Annapolis Elementary will also remain as a stand-alone revitalization project with design slated for FY 2012 and construction to begin in FY 2013.
I have no doubt that these budget votes would have been different without the tremendous outpouring of support from the community. I thank the parents and students who came out for impromptu rallies, waited long hours to testify at public hearings, and otherwise made their voices heard. The community's voice does make a difference.
The final vote on the amended budget is next week so it's not over yet, but the heavy lifting took place today. I am grateful for the bipartisan support of my colleagues on the County Council during this very difficult budget season. I am also grateful for the personal involvement of House Speaker Mike Busch and the Annapolis City Council, especially Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson and Alderman Fred Paone, all of whom went the extra mile to convey the importance of these votes to Annapolis families.
Friday, May 8, 2009
As reported in today's Capital, the County Executive's proposed budget fails to fund the Visual and Performing Arts Magnet Program at Bates Middle School this Fall.
This budget cut is disappointing to say the least. The Annapolis feeder system has more middle-school students attending private school than any feeder system in the county. Signature programs such as the Middle Years Programme at Annapolis Middle School and the Arts Magnet at Bates are key to the long term viability of city public schools.
The County Council needs to restore the Arts Magnet funding, and community support will be key to making it happen.
Tough fiscal times
Fiscally, the County is hard-pressed to fund any enhancements for FY2010. It is a challenge simply to maintain our existing level of services. From that viewpoint, any increase such as the Arts Magnet sticks out as an easy target to cut.
Enrollment decisions already made
Although the full implementation of the Arts Magnet will be an enhancement over the current budget, it is one that the schools have committed to in writing. Parents have passed the point of no return in making school decisions for their children next Fall. After receiving the Arts Magnet acceptance letters, parents withdrew their children's slots at other schools.
How heartbreaking this will be for these students who applied for admission and received the acceptance letter, only to have it pulled away. If this action stands it will severely erode families' confidence and trust in their school system.
It would be understandable to defer a funding enhancement that was never committed to. But, at this late date it is unacceptable to cancel the implementation of the Arts Magnet after scores of parents have already made irreversible enrollment decisions for this Fall.
Needless to say, I am committed to restoring this funding. I am cautiously optimistic that a majority of my colleagues will support the effort, but it is a very difficult year fiscally. Community support will be the key to making it happen.
The County Council is holding two public hearings on the budget next week. They both start at 7 p.m. as follows:
at the Arundel Center in Annapolis
Individuals are given two minutes to speak. The best testimonial is simply from the heart. Parents whose children have already been accepted into the magnet should bring their acceptance letter with them.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Today the Board of Education finalized its FY 2010 budget request and reaffirmed its significant commitment to the Annapolis-area school system. Despite the difficult budget climate, the Board approved all three Annapolis school construction projects: Germantown Elementary, Annapolis Elementary, and the Phoenix Center. It also approved the new funding needed to fully implement the Visual and Performing Arts Magnet Program at Bates Middle School this Fall -- one of the very few funding enhancements in the FY 2010 budget.
These projects have passed a critical juncture in the budget process with today's vote. Now the budget process moves on to the County Executive followed by the County Council. The final outcome is by no means assured, but our success so far is a testament to the power of grassroots community support. Thank you to all of you who have made your voices heard. Let's keep it going as we aim for final budget approval in May.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Citizens of Anne Arundel County and the City of Annapolis have an opportunity right now to help shape development and land use for the next 10 years.
Both the County and City are in the process of updating their long-range development plans. Once finalized, these two documents will serve as blueprints for everything from zoning and development to housing and economic development to transportation and environmental protection. Several key dates and opportunities for input are coming up soon.
Anne Arundel County's General Development Plan (GDP)
On January 20th, the County will release the draft GDP on its website. The County will then hold four public forums to present the plan and receive public input. All forums will run from 6 to 9 p.m. at the following locations:
- January 26th at Annapolis High School
- January 28th at Old Mill High School
- February 3rd at Southern High School
- February 5th at Meade High School
After this public outreach effort concludes, the County will revise the draft and present a final proposed plan to the County Council shortly thereafter. Once the County Council receives it, the Council will hold public hearings of its own. I and likely other council members intend to hold special public forums in our districts to highlight local changes and to receive constituent input.
Community forum this Sunday: Two local organizations -- The League of Women Voters of Anne Arundel County and Growth Action Network -- are sponsoring a special public program on the GDP. It is scheduled for this Sunday afternoon, January 11th at 1:30 p.m. at Woods Memorial Church in Severna Park. LWV member and Growth Action Network chair Ann Fligsten will chair a panel discussion that will include Al Johnston, longtime civic activist and member of the County's Special Advisory Committee for the GDP. For more information contact Ann.
City of Annapolis' Comprehensive Plan
The City has already posted the public draft of its Comprehensive Plan online. The City's Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to receive input on Thursday, February 5th at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 160 Duke of Gloucester Street.
The City will also accept comments in writing or by email through February 9th.
I encourage all citizens to make the most of this opportunity to be heard and to shape the future of our city and county.
Labels: zoning and development