Marks pulls business district bill; will form panel to study it further

Legislation that 5th District County Councilman David Marks had said would simplify the process of establishing business improvement districts in Baltimore County was pulled by Marks in advance of Tuesday's council work session, and won't be voted upon by the council next month.

But that doesn't mean it's dead.

"When I spoke before the Towson Chamber of Commerce Executive Board, they suggested that I slow the process down," said Marks, who represents Towson. "I agreed to do so, to pull the original bill and to form a committee that will look at the feasibility of a business improvement district, as well as other funding options."

The committee will be announced on Wednesday, Sept. 26, Marks said.

After the bill was introduced earlier this month, Marks said discussions had begun on implementing a business improvement district in Towson that would charge local businesses an additional tax and in return, provide added security, street cleaning, marketing and pedestrian improvements to downtown Towson.

Marks said last weekend's violence in downtown Towson "brought to everyone's attention the need to beef up security in the downtown core."

But he acknowledged the chamber's concerns, and said, "a business improvement district is a complex issue, and it deserves the scrutiny it's going to get."

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, said she didn't have a chance to even mention the process to her members before last Wednesday's monthly meeting of the chamber.

"We said we needed to talk to the business community to see that their feelings are, because that's our responsibility, to represent them," Hafford said. "That's the way you do things. You gather that information first, and then you decide which way to go from there."

Hafford said she was concerned that added mandatory fees could be passed along from the building owners to the small businesses. The fee structure in the city's Downtown Partnership of Baltimore is based on square footage, meaning that some of Towson's largest tenants could object as well.

The county already has a process for creation of business improvement districts, requiring two steps: First, the council must approve the bid for the district, which would include its geographic boundaries, the tax structure, membership, budget and jurisdiction of the authority. Second, the council must separately approve the license fee and tax structure that would pay for the services provided.

Marks bill would have streamlined that process with one stage.

Marks said he believed the bill could have passed, and called its withdrawal a "temporary pause in the process."

"I campaigned on this," he said. "I think a business improvement district is an option we need to pursue.

"I don't think the county is going to have all of the resources over the next few years to make the improvements needed in a dense and developing area like Towson," he said.

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