SCHOOL DELAYS

Baltimore Council approves $2,500 property tax credit for police, firefighters

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore police and firefighters who choose to live in the city will get a $2,500 a year property tax credit under legislation approved by the City Council Monday night.

The council voted 13-1 to pass the bill, which was backed by Mayor Catherine Pugh. It is part of a long-running effort to get more police officers, in particular, to live closer to the neighborhoods where they work in hopes of boosting police-community relations. Of nearly 3,000 Baltimore Police Department employees, fewer than 500 live in the city, according to the Finance Department. Of more than 1,400 Fire Department employees, fewer than 300 live in Baltimore.

Councilman John Bullock of West Baltimore said recent conversations with new police recruits give him hope that the tax credit will help entice more of them to move to the city. Having more officers and firefighters living in the city could help with response times and build trust, he said.

“If you live in a neighborhood, if you live in the city, you’re going to be more comfortable in those neighborhoods and people will be more comfortable with you,” Bullock said. “If you see people in your neighborhood, not only on duty but when they’re off duty, they become part of the fabric of the community.”

Councilman Ryan Dorsey of Northeast Baltimore was the only member opposed. Councilman Edward Reisinger of South Baltimore was absent.

Pugh wants the tax credit to help more public safety officers purchase homes in Baltimore, said spokesman Anthony McCarthy.

He said the action also shows the city’s commitment to them. “It honors their service,” McCarthy said.

Officials have said they are having more success recruiting local residents to join the police department, and have worked with Live Baltimore, an agency that encourages people to move to the city, to showcase neighborhoods for trainees.

The $2,500 tax credit could help offset the higher property taxes in Baltimore compared with surrounding counties and translate into $40,000 more in borrowing power, city officials say.

The council amended the legislation to expire in 10 years. Councilman Eric Costello, one of its lead sponsors, won passage of another amendment Monday to require an annual report on the program that shows the number of officers and firefighters using the tax credit.

The report will allow the council to “provide adequate oversight,” Costello said.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he was excited about the bill’s passage. He said he is considering other measures to encourage more officers to live in the city.

Dorsey questioned whether the tax credit would have any effect on the number of officers and firefighters living in the city and said he wanted to explore a similar break for the lowest-paid fourth of the city’s workforce. Creating such a program would first require legislation by the General Assembly.

“I don't think this is going to affect a meaningful change in the residency of police officers,” Dorsey said, suggesting that police earn enough to buy a home without help.

The borrowing power that the tax credit allows would give lower-paid city workers a greater opportunity to become homeowners, Dorsey said.

“You know who could use that? The people on the bottom end of the spectrum,” Dorsey said. “That’s what’s good for communities — not more police officers.”

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