Message from the Mayor: Policies communicate decisions; budgets should demonstrate choices

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Route 1 in downtown Hyattsville. Photo by Krissi Humbard

BY CANDACE B. HOLLINGSWORTH — During the past four years, the Hyattsville City Council has done some impressive — and at times, courageous — work to expand democracy, protect its employees, limit outside influence in local elections and strengthen ties between residents and their law enforcement officers. These successes have earned Hyattsville the oft-repeated moniker of being “such a progressive city,” and I’m proud of that.

However, progressive policies, programs and services come with an economic cost. The council often evaluates those costs and determines that the value of the good (the policy, program or service) is worth the expense the city will bear for it. Many times, though, we avoid the more difficult task of choosing what we — the city and its residents — will have to do without.

This has to change. We need to start making choices among the many things we may want.

For the past four years, we have proposed and approved a budget with an operational deficit. Because of a variety of factors — and the recent boom in property taxes — we have been able to end each of the past four years with a surplus. Our general fund balance is healthy and has allowed us to plan for a few significant investments over the next five years. However, our costs will only increase if we continue at this pace, and eventually our surplus will dry up.

The marker of our commitment to progressive ideals is in how well we maintain a demonstrably inclusive community with racial, ethnic, cultural, generational and socioeconomic diversity.

Policies, programs or services that are expensive — yet serve only a few people, restrict mobility in and around the city, or arbitrarily discourage density and multifamily units — fly in the face of this objective. We achieve, maintain and expand the diversity we seek by ensuring that our community is truly affordable and accessible. Unlike many cities and towns our size, we have an opportunity to do this right.

The costs of government are uniquely tied to affordability in our community, and I am growing concerned. We cannot afford to spend or subsidize without being explicitly mindful about the real choices we are making (or not making). I include myself in this “we.”

This isn’t about rightsizing government. This is about prioritizing what government will do and the resources it will allocate to achieve established goals. I am not saying that progressive policies are the culprit. Nor am I saying that I am opposed to a tax rate increase that supports our work in this area. In fact, I will champion both if necessary. What I am asking is for each and every one of you to help us prioritize.

On the council, we may be asking some questions of staff and of each other that may lead to difficult tradeoffs. We may learn that things we have “always done” aren’t yielding the substantial impact we desired. Or maybe, we’ll learn that what we thought was a good idea is ultimately not in the best interest of the whole community. Or we may determine that everything we do is necessary and important, and that we need to think harder about how we finance these efforts. Then we may have to consider novel solutions in order to shore up our commitment to being an inclusive city with incredible amenities. Thankfully, by starting this work now, the array of potential choices is vast.

My goal as mayor continues to be the same: I want everyone in the City of Hyattsville to be able to experience the city in the same way, no matter where they live, who they are, where they’re from or who they love.

The policies we have passed are just the first step. We now have to make sure that the benefits of our progressivism don’t extend only to those who can afford them.

Candace B. Hollingsworth is the mayor of the City of Hyattsville.