As summer fast approaches, this will be my fifth semi-annual status report on what I have been up to on Council. In a change from the prior two years, this year I have been serving as Council president. As such, I have had greater involvement across a multitude of different issues. However, I want to focus on three themes that have so far permeated this Council: economic growth and affordability, transparency, and inclusivity.
I have written previously about the need for fiscal responsibility. This year, in the wake of the adverse changes in the federal tax law with regard to property tax deductions, we were able to achieve a 0% tax increase in the municipal tax rate. In addition, we had a 22% decrease in capital expenses from the prior year, thereby reducing the amount the City borrows.
While reducing expenses is one half of the affordability equation, the other side is encouraging economic growth. To achieve that result:
We approved having the Planning Board review the Development Regulations and Ordinances in order to ensure that building codes are modernized and reflect the public comments received during the Master Plan process.
We are moving forward with changing first-floor zoning in the downtown so that entertainment options will be permitted. If you were ever wondering why our former movie theatre was below ground, it is because our zoning regulations did not allow such entertainment uses on the first floor.
We created an Economic Development Committee to give ideas to Council. The reason for creating such a committee was not to give some companies tax advantages or to penalize others (i.e., picking “winners and losers”), nor is it to create a command and control economy. Rather, like any smart company, we should be looking at long-term trends—whether they are on the technological front or with regard to regional demographics. We have to acknowledge that approximately 19% of our tax base is commercial, and of that 19%, more than 50% is comprised of a single company. We need to recognize the consequences of such a distribution.
I have also written about the need for government to be transparent. So, this year, I launched two new programs.
First, I started drafting “Council meeting previews.” The goal is to explain, in plain English and prior to each meeting, what is the on agenda, why we are looking at these issues, and what significance they would have for the community. Those previews are posted on the City website as well as on my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/VoteDavidNaidu/).
Second, we instituted “Council on the Road” meetings with residents. The aim is that, every quarter, we will meet with residents in a less formal setting to discuss their issues and to try to solve their programs. The first was held in March at Wallace Chapel. The second will be on July 11th at 7:00 pm at First Aid Squad building.
In addition to these two new programs, I am happy to say that, after a nearly two-year effort, this January the City launched its on-line permit tracking system so that residents can find where they are in the permit process. When I was campaigning in 2015, I heard the frustration many residents felt with regard to not knowing what was happening with their permits, as well as with how long it took for permits to be issued. We seek to address both of these issues with the on-line tracking system. However, the City must continue to strive to treat applicants fairly, courteously and to move the process forward as expeditiously as possible.
The third issue I want to address is inclusivity. One of the powers of government is to help shape the tone of a community. As such, we have strived over these few months to emphasize inclusion of all in our community. To that end, Council passed a resolution that established the City’s contribution (primarily in-kind) for a permanent Free Market Building. The Free Market helps those in our community who need household materials to get them from others in our community. Second, just recently, Council approved the placement of a historical marker near the site of the original Fountain Baptist church—the first African American church in Summit that was founded 120 years ago. Finally, I am proud of Council’s part in launching the Hometown Heroes program. It was a project that, again, showed that we are one community comprised of many different parts.
As they year progresses, I anticipate that we will continue the dialogue with residents regarding the Broad Street redevelopment, that we will look at sustainability issues, that we will persist in seeking out ways to obtain services efficiently, and that we will continue to seek ideas from the community as to how it wants to move forward.
David Naidu - President, Summit Common Council