Tax Increase Rejected

The community has spoken: no new taxes.

But College Park officials say they hope to find other ways to fund road improvements and beautification projects.

Voters last week overwhelmingly rejected two tax referendums. One asked for support of a proposed property tax increase to pay for street repairs and sidewalk construction, and the other sought approval for a property tax increase to cover the cost of relocating utility lines along Route 1.

Each was rejected by more than 60 percent of voters.

Officialdom is undaunted.

"As long as I'm on the council, we're going to continue to look at it," said City Council member John E. Perry, who introduced legislation to create a $2.5 million property tax fund to pay for street and sidewalk repair.

The City Council does not need voter permission to raise the property tax rate above the current 57 cents per $100 of assessed value, but council members would be required to amend the city's charter, a process that could force another referendum.

According to the city's charter, a resident of College Park may, within 40 days of council passage of a charter change, request a referendum. The vote would be held in a special election, said Richard Conti, city manager.

Council member Eric C. Olson, who had pushed for the tax increase to pay for utility work, said he was skeptical the proposal could be revived.

"It [finding money to relocate utility lines] is still something I very much want to pursue," Olson said. "But it would take a whole lot of political will to do so after a vote like that."

Conti also did not hold out much hope that a tax increase would come any time soon.

"I think what happened with these two issues is that they're probably dead," Conti said. "They were issues asking the folks in the city for their opinions. The folks voting advised the council they didn't want to spend money on these two projects. If you take your guidance on these questions, the council should probably do nothing. However, I can't guarantee what their behavior will be."

Newly elected council member Mark D. Shroder, who ousted incumbent Sherrill T. Murray, said he supports the idea of repairing streets and gutters in the city and thinks the council should find some way to pay for it.

"I intended to vote yes on the curb and gutter referendum" and "no" on the power line relocation, Shroder said.

Except for Murray, incumbents were returned to office. They are Mayor Michael J. Jacobs; District 1, Lisa A. Blevins-Steel and Shroder; District 2, Robert Thomas Catlin and Perry; District 3, Sharon A. Brayman and Olson; District 4, Peter J. King and Alan Wanuck.

Murray, who lost her District 1 seat, said she was going to file a complaint with the council about how the votes were counted.

-- Ashley M. Heher


Name Confusion

What's in a name? Plenty. Or perhaps nothing. Take, for instance, Riverdale Park, formerly known as Riverdale.

The town officially changed its name Sept. 8, 1998, but signs scattered throughout the incorporated burg of 5,400 have yet to reflect that irrefutable fact. From East West Highway to the MARC station to the municipal building, the signs all say: Riverdale.

But official Riverdale, er, Riverdale Park, wants the world to say what its signs don't.

"We have noticed many instances of misidentification of Riverdale Park as 'Riverdale,' " wrote an irate council member, Christina A. Davis, in an e-mail to The Washington Post, which has on occasion mixed its Riverdales.

The change movement arose from image problems. It seems the U.S. Postal Service included the area east of Kenilworth Avenue, outside the municipal limits, in the Riverdale address and Zip code. So whenever a high-profile crime occurred in the unincorporated area of 24,000 residents, the entire community got the heat.

In the minds of some, Riverdale's undeserved image problems were holding down the town--and its real estate values. So the council voted in August 1998 to make the change. Then some irate residents forced a referendum, and lost, by a decisive vote of 418 to 252.

The earth did not move. Property values did not soar. Insurance premiums on cars and homes did not decline, as some had hoped.

Nor did the signs change. This tangible change will take time and money, city officials said. As the politically incorrect signs wear out, they promised, they will be replaced.

Meanwhile, some residents say the world at large is indifferent, at best. "To me, if the town's not changing [the signs], other people aren't going to follow," said Dawn Worsham, a longtime resident "of what is supposed to be known now as Riverdale Park."

But every time she tries to inform a business of her new address, she said, they ignore her. "I've tried with several companies that will just not accept the 'park,' " said Worsham, who initially challenged the change but accepts it.

Taylor Wells, an interior decorator whose shop is on the town square opposite the train station that still says "Riverdale," said the change hasn't affected his business at all. "The people I deal with, basically in Montgomery County, don't really know what Riverdale is anyhow, and to them, the name change doesn't mean anything. . . .

"I didn't feel it would do very much for the economic standing of the area, and I don't think it has actually," said Wells, who lives in nearby College Park. "You know, Riverdale is Riverdale. It's the way it is."

-- Eugene L. Meyer

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