Blame Baltimore's politicians for its shrinking population

It's clear that Baltimore has a number of systemic government issues, including mismanagement, that have resulted in a decades-long exodus out of the city. From 1970 to 2000, Baltimore's total population declined nearly 30 percent. That hemorrhaging of population continues, as evidenced by more than 6,700 people leaving in the 12 months that ended in July 2016.

Christopher B. Summers, CEO of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, has offered a plausible causal effect: Baltimore's exceedingly high tax rates, which are about twice as high as other counties across the state. Deferred or favorable tax rates given to developers and the non-tax status of non-profits and churches have resulted in the current environment where the tax burden on property owners is egregious. The city has a high personal income tax rate as well.

While all of this revenue should provide benefits, the opposite seems to be true. Due to a neglected maintenance of our infrastructure, we are facing horrendous costs to rebuild the city sewer and water systems, resulting in yet another burden on homeowners with city water rates increasing by more than 30 percent through 2019.

Our schools are consistently underfunded and poor performing as well. Families make their home-buying decisions based largely on the quality of schools for their children. Our lack of attractive schools leaves families with little option but high-priced private schools, resulting in a high percentage of homebuyers without children. Those demographics have left us with a population that is highly mobile, and they are exercising that option in choosing to move elsewhere.

It is obvious that taxes will only rise over time as the city attempts to correct the systemic poverty and education issues it faces, while failing to provide the community benefits that enhance the livability of the city. Add to that the safety concerns of a high crime rate, and you have a recipe for disaster in terms of attracting and keeping a viable population. As the population continues to fall, the need for city revenues will have no choice but to raise our already high tax rates and tax burden on the remaining population.

In spite of all this, Baltimore is well positioned with the natural characteristics to be a true destination city. It is a waterfront city, well-located adjacent to the nation's capital and offers a range of nearby recreational, cultural and economic benefits. It has a moderate four seasons climate and competitive professional sports teams. And yet we continue to shrink.

Our city government — the mayor and City Council — are the primary stewards of our tax dollars. It is on their shoulders that the blame falls for the decline of our city. Decades of mismanagement, persistent public contract cost overruns and special interest funding set asides or tax deferrals have been debilitating. We have seen protests and pleas for help from the disadvantaged segments of our city. Perhaps it is time that the rest of us who must pay the high costs of city mismanagement raise our voices as well. At some point, given the current negative path we are on, even the faithful who love living in Baltimore will say "enough" and move elsewhere.

Jerry Cothran, retired from government service, continues to work as a consultant to both public and private sector organizations on government policy, contracting, and related statutory requirements. His email is jerry.cothran@outlook.com.

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