GREENBELT – The Mayor and City Council heard from Franklin Park residents Monday evening and attempted to address their concerns, which includes rising utility bills.
Residents living in Franklin Park, at the west side of the city, complained about rising rent and utility bills at a meeting held in Springhill Lake recreation center last week Monday.
Rosemary Bell, who has lived in Franklin Park for 20 years, said her electricity bill continues to rise despite energy conservation efforts.
“Even though I strove to be ‘green’ the bill was up every year,” Bell said. “Then, PEPCO came and installed these energy efficient lights – but the bill was still climbing.”
Joseph Kazarnovsky, of the Fieldstone Properties, a company which owns and operates the 153-acre park-like community, said the issue is not about how much energy Bell is conserving, but rather the rates the utility company charges.
“Although there might have not been an increase in consumption for a few years, the rates have been steadily rising,” Kazarnovsky said. “The same with the real estate tax, which the city can only control so far, and many other expenses.”
Because all major expenses increased, so did the maintenance costs, Kazarnovsky said. Additionally, the company had to adequately adjust the salary for the employees accounting for rising cost of living expenses.
David Abraham, another resident, brought a copy of his utilities chart to show to representatives of Fieldstone. Abraham said the cost of utilities he has been paying are “crazy.”
“Utilities have been exploding,” Abraham said, “particularly from the last year and nearly doubling in a three-year period.”
Kazarnovsky said the drastic increase in the last 6-7 months was mainly due to the “unusually cold winter” compared to previous years.
Kazarnovsky also confirmed Fieldstone does not plan to implement an across-the-board 10 percent rental fee increase.
According to Kazarnovsky, some residents might see an increase because they have particularly low rents below market value. However, he said some tenants may see a 1 percent increase, or possibly even smaller, based on market conditions and assessments.
“No matter how much your rent may be, it will be substantially lower than any rent in this area--that I promise,” Kazarnovsky said. “If not so, I encourage you to contact me.”
Franklin Park is the largest multi-family community east of the Mississippi. With 2,877 apartment and town homes with 10,000 dwellers, it houses more than 40 percent of Greenbelt’s residents.
Fieldstone took over Franklin Park about five years ago. Since the company took over, there has been a decrease in complaints, Kazarnovsky said, after residents filed more than 600 complaints in 2010.
The Mayor and Council also noted there has been a substantial decrease in crime in the area partly due to the company tackling a persistent laundry issue.
Franklin Park opened a state-of-the-art laundry facility and replaced a number of individual laundry rooms –which used to be a source of code violations and criminal activity—with more than a dozen satellite laundries around the periphery.
Mayor Emmett Jordan also lauded the company for maintaining a 94 percent occupancy rate.
“Achieving that rate in five years is extraordinary,” Jordan said.
The council also thanked the company for properly addressing a backlog of permit approvals and maintenance work left behind by the previous owner.
The council urged Fieldstone to encourage more citizen participation to better organize the way it disseminates information to its residents.
According to Crystal Cornish, a Fieldstone employee who oversees resident relations, the company primarily contacts its residents electronically.
“We wanted to be modern in this age and save on what would be printing 2,000 paper pieces,” Cornish said. “That’s why we mainly post electronic newsletter on our web site and use email listserv to inform our residents.”
She added the company also holds monthly group meetings with residents, as well as organizes movie nights and music activities.
Councilwoman Leta Mach suggested the owners use the Greenbelt News Review as a cost-free paper alternative to spread news and information about the city.
“If you want members of your neighborhood to actively participate in the city government and influence decision-making, you have to ensure their involvement with advisory boards and committees to voice their opinions,” Mach said.