Roland Park mulls idea of creating special taxing district

The Roland Park Civic League is looking into the idea of creating a special taxing district, like the ones in Charles Village and the Bolton Hill area.

Such districts levy tax surcharges on property owners to pay for services such as public safety and sanitation.

The civic league is looking for ways to pay for maintenance of public open spaces that would not be covered by Baltimore City.

But league members say the discussion is conceptual, and stress that such a district would not be a panacea in helping cover maintenance and other costs.

They say the Charles Village Community Benefits District has been contentious and that they don't want controversy.

Several members said during a league meeting March 1 that they are opposed to the idea or on the fence.

"I don't want to touch a benefits district with a 10-foot pole," said Seema Iyer. "We already have enough governance here. The last thing I want is more governance."

No vote was taken, and league president Phil Spevak said the agenda item was intended "to get discussion going and get feedback."

Roland Park Roads and Maintenance currently covers maintenance costs with mandatory fees from residents under the community's legal covenants – potentially as much as $207,000 a year to pay for the care of footpaths, medians and traffic islands, snow and organic debris removal, and sign replacement, among other things.

But league members said that 20 percent of residents fail to pay the fees.

That's why the league is looking into other possible funding sources, Spevak said.

Spevak said he is especially concerned about how to pay for upkeep of future parks, such as one proposed around the old Roland Water Tower, which is technically in Hoes Heights, and 17 acres of Baltimore Country Club land, if the league can buy it from the club.

He said a taxing district would probably be more viable if it included surrounding communities such as Keswick and Hoes Heights, which are already included in the Greater Roland Park Master Plan catchment area.

He said some of those communities have expressed interest in the idea of a community benefits district.

"I think a lot of communities feel like us. They want the level of services raised," Spevak said.

But some league members expressed concern that the league would lose influence in a taxing district for the whole area.

Keswick Improvement Association president Cindy Leahy, for one, said her association has not broached the subject of a special taxing district..

"I would have to hear what they have in mind," she said.

Iyer said the league would do better to raise more money for maintenance by getting more residents to pay their fees.

But others questioned whether the fee model is still viable.

"It's really not practical to go out and sue people" for not paying their fees, said league member Ken Rice.

If nothing else, the benefits district idea made for a lively discussion.

"I was worried nobody would be interested," Spevak said.

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