College Park residents expressed concerns about the proposed city budget — including their desires for increased public safety funding and higher commercial property tax rates — at the city council meeting Tuesday night. The city's proposed budget for fiscal 2019 is a little over $20 million, a four percent increase from 2018's budget.
The budget increase is largely to pay for speeding cameras from the city's public services department. The new source of revenue for the cameras is necessary because of a change in state law, Mayor Patrick Wojahn said.
Last year, the state of Maryland passed a law requiring speed camera programs to be funded by city budgets, instead of the revenue from city traffic tickets. As a result, the total costs and revenue incurred by the city of College Park will not change. However, due to a difference in accounting methods, the city budget will increase.
Some residents were concerned the budget did not increase funding for police services in College Park.
"I am extremely disappointed that the budget does not increase any serious funds for safety," resident Carol Macknis said. "To me, as a resident of the city, it is apparent that the budget lacks what it needs to help make the whole city safer, not just the downtown area."
College Park does not have its own police department, but the city has contracts with Prince George's County Police to provide increased coverage for the city, Wojahn said.
While property tax rates for city residents are not set to increase, some residents said they were concerned these rates are not increasing for commercial properties. Resident David Dorsch said apartment buildings such as The Varsity and The Hotel should pay more to the city.
The proposed budget also includes $5.7 million in funding for the construction of a new City Hall, as well as Hollywood Gateway Park — which is in the planning stages — and dog parks, as well as road management and a new customer relations management software for the city.
In addition, Wojahn issued a proclamation recognizing May 18, 2018 as the city's University of Maryland LGBT Equity Center Day.
"It's important to me that students who come to College Park can have a place to feel welcomed, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity," Wojahn said before reading the proclamation.
The center, which was founded in 1998, works to support the LGBTQ+ community on campus, coordinating with other offices to promote an inclusive environment on the campus. The group works with the Department of Resident Life and proposes gender inclusive language in the university's diversity statement, among other efforts.
The proclamation recognizes the 20th anniversary of the center's services for students, faculty, alumni and College Park community members.
"A 20-year marker is an important time to take stock and see how much has occurred, including the broader social change," said Luke Jensen, the center's director. "There's nothing like having the home team give you an award — there's nothing like having the people where we work and live honor the work that we do."
The council also voted unanimously to re-establish free summer parking in the downtown parking garage and City Hall parking lot in an effort to encourage residents to visit local business, District 1 Councilman Fazlul Kabir said.
"The reason we do this is to encourage more customers and residents to come downtown and do business," Kabir said. "In the summer time, we lose the student population and they are a huge chunk of our customer base, so we have been thinking what should we do to bring [in] more customers."