Budget Vote Set for June 7

Many Kentlands residents have economic development and taxes on their minds as Gaithersburg’s elected leaders prepare to adopt the 2011 fiscal year budget on June 7.

The proposed budget includes $2 million in a new fund earmarked for economic development, although a plan on how to best utilize the money remains undeveloped.

Kentlands Citizens Assembly (KCA) President Adrienne Gillen is asking city leaders to take “a balanced approach” when it comes to economic development within the city limits.

“I hear a clarion call from business owners for forward movement on implementation of the Kentlands charrette plan to help revive and maintain our business community here,” said Gillen. “That plan calls for rebranding, signage and pedestrian improvements among other things.”

Other residents and merchants are also hoping to see more city support for the Kentlands Downtown.

“Please use a portion of the $2 million economic development fund you have included in the draft FY 2011 budget to begin implementation of the charrette plan,” said Kathy Wu, a merchant on Main Street. “Specifically, a flagship signage plan (along the lines of Washingtonian) and a rebranding plan should be completed now to provide a guide to move forward.”

“If [the] Council is committed to economic development, why are you refusing to make a commitment to Kentlands Downtown or respond to previous testimony provided to you?” asked Paula Ross, president of the Kentlands Downtown Partnership (KDP) in an e-mail to City Hall. “You recently brought the comptroller of Maryland here, and groups from around the world come to our downtown every year to look at a great example of new urbanism. The city risks losing that visibility … if the Kentlands Downtown charrette plan is not moving forward.”

“The huge amount that was spent on the charrette is only more insulting when we continue to see a lack of interest in trying to improve the Kentlands downtown commercial district even with the major efforts being made by our merchants,” said Arleen Dennis of Chevy Chase Street. “Considering that Kentlands is a ‘go to’ spot for people from all over the world looking for ways to do new urbanism and that such events as the 5K bring thousands of people into Gaithersburg, it’s truly hard to understand the attitude from everyone involved in decision making.”

“Kentlands is the jewel in the crown of Gaithersburg, and we need your continued support to achieve our mutual goals,” echoed Gwen Love of Chevy Chase Street.

City leaders are also proposing a 5-cent tax rate increase in the 2011 budget.

Robyn Renas of Briscoe Street said having a zero increase has been an “unrealistic stance.”

“If the city had incrementally increased the tax rate in past years, this would not be a huge issue,” she said. “I suggest a nominal increase every other year or however it works out. What is so unfair about a huge increase in 2011 is that it appears that the city residents of 2011 are paying for previous years.”

Ross also questioned why the city is budgeting $50,000 on a fireworks display in the proposed 2011 budget when several nearby municipalities will have similar displays, and she pointed out that Gaithersburg residents can also enjoy those night light shows. “This money can be put to better longer-term use such as getting started on the Kentlands Downtown Charrette plan,” she suggested.

She also criticized spending $500,000 for employee stipends in the 2011 budget.

“Almost every other municipality is forcing furloughs on staff, and we are giving pay stipends to all staff, including people who make over $100,000 per year, including our city manager,” said Ross. “This is inappropriate in these dire times. … If anyone should get pay raises it should be our police officers, who are working without a chief and are stretched thin, and our City Council [members], who make next to nothing and have been working more than full-time.”

The Mayor and Council are slated to adopt the budget at 7:30 p.m. at the June 7 meeting at Gaithersburg City Hall. The meeting is broadcast live on Comcast Channel 13 and streamed live on the city’s website.