Without a doubt, the most difficult event of the year for us was the untimely passing of former Assistant City Manager Fred Felton. During his 19 years of service, Fred had an enormous impact on the city — how we deliver services, how we enforce code, how we work with Annapolis and Rockville — and how we’ve grown. Most of all, though, we miss our friend.
You can’t talk about 2010 without giving a nod to Mother Nature. Monstrous blizzards, record heat, huge storms and devastating winds all resulted in major damage (including condemned properties and the closure to-this-day of Growler’s restaurant) and widespread power outages. Oh, and by the way, an earthquake. Watch out for frogs and boils, folks, it was nothing short of biblical!
City Hall wasn’t immune to 2010’s challenges. Early in the year, we had our police chief suddenly resign. And, as the months went on, the sheer scope of the city’s budget crunch emerged. Flat property tax revenues, along with dramatic cuts in state and county dollars, all combined to form the worst budget situation in anyone’s memory. (And that includes Mayor Katz, who has been in public office for 30 years and remembers everything!)
The Triumphant 2010
Faced with the high-priority police chief vacancy, City Manager Angel Jones immediately instituted an efficient, open process that included input from stakeholders and the public. The process yielded several strong candidates, including Mark Sroka, then a major for the Maryland State Police, widely admired for his fairness and good management. And Mark has turned out to be a terrific hire.
The budget was trickier. With staff’s diligent assistance, the Mayor and Council first identified ways to make $4.2 million in cuts while maintaining adequate service levels. Then we plugged it into a fiscally responsible five-year plan that will keep Gaithersburg on solid ground. While the plan did call for us to hold our collective nose and raise tax rates in order to compensate for dwindling revenues, we maintained the distinction of having the lowest tax rate of any Maryland city of significant size.
We’ve gotten some less-noticeable things done this year as well. They’re each quite meaningful in their own way — and to our future. These include:
• Revising multifamily residential parking requirements;
• Passing comprehensive storm water management regulations;
• Updating several elements of our Master Plan;
• Strengthening our ethics code; and
• Streamlining the way we approach historic preservation.
Last spring, the city launched what will surely become one of the Washington, D.C., area’s most important cultural events, the Gaithersburg Book Festival, which drew large crowds who came to meet and hear from many nationally known authors. Look out for the next one in May! (www.gaithersburgbookfestival.org)
A Tremendous 2011!
If you’re paying attention, it’s not hard to see that 2011 promises to be a big growth year for Gaithersburg. On the east side of the city, where leaders have long been trying to spur redevelopment, those efforts are starting to bear fruit:
• Units at the new Highland apartments at West Deer Park and 355 are moving briskly;
• Financing for the mixed-use Archstone project (aka Westchester at Olde Towne) has just been approved;
• Financing for the mixed-use Summit Center project in Hidden Creek has just been approved; and
• Just recently, the state granted Gaithersburg’s application to expand our current Enterprise Zone along Route 355.
Elsewhere, the Crown Farm development has broken ground. At our city’s request, a realignment of the planned Corridor Cities Transitway has been evaluated and found to be workable. This will better serve the Kentlands/Lakelands area, as well as Crown Farm. At City Hall, we’ll be welcoming a new economic development director position as well as a couple of new police officers — and revamping the city’s website. If it weren’t for space limitations, I’d go on! Suffice it to say that these developments are only the tip of the iceberg.
So, folks, there is good reason for optimism in Gaithersburg as we head into the New Year. May 2011 bring you and yours good health, hearty laughter and much happiness.
Jud Ashman is the vice-president of the Gaithersburg City Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org