Councilman pledges to halt City Hall's tax breaks for developers

The City Council's finance committee chairman threatened Thursday to impose a moratorium on tax breaks for developers until City Hall implements more transparency in the process and funds more projects outside of downtown.

Carl Stokes, who chairs the Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee, said he wants to see City Hall implement nearly a dozen recommendations from a task force composed of some of Baltimore's best-known business and political leaders before he would allow any more PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) or TIF (tax increment financing) projects. His panel has purview over legislation granting such breaks.

"We think there could be more transparency and more neighborhood development," Stokes said.

The mayor's office condemned Stokes' move, saying his hasty opposition would have a widespread impact.

"A moratorium on TIF or PILOT legislation would be reckless, and threatens to kill job creation in the city," said Ian Brennan, a spokesman for MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake.

At issue are the recommendations released Thursday by a task force that met nine times over six months. The task force includes Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, Abell Foundation President Robert C. Embry, former Deputy Mayor Andy Frank and former mayoral candidate and Board of Realtors representativeJoseph T. "Jody" Landers III.

The task force called on City Hall and its quasi-public development arm, theBaltimore Development Corp., to require a "greater and consistent return" on the tax breaks; to increase efforts for community revitalization and "common good" projects, such as public parks; to seek more profit-sharing agreements with developers; and to communicate better with citizens affected by the projects.

More than 100 development projects in Baltimore enjoy tax breaks known as PILOTs and TIFs, which are designed to stimulate economic growth.

In general, the tax breaks are good for the city, encourage development and boost tax revenue from increased economic activity, the report argues. For instance, the 11 completed PILOT projects analyzed in the report are exempt from $12.8 million in annual property taxes but generate about $15.4 million in other taxes, such parking, energy and telephone fees.

But task force members criticized the Baltimore Development Corp.'s approach to soliciting the TIFs, arguing that developers are determining the plans and areas for development, instead of the city's selecting areas for growth.

"Right now, the process is driven by developers. The city needs to be in the driver's seat," said Landers, who like Stokes, ran against Rawlings-Blake for mayor. Stokes later abandoned his mayoral ambitions and ran for his 12th District Council seat.

Community activist Kim Trueheart, who described herself as a representative of the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce, said she was "disappointed" the report wasn't stronger.

"It highlighted a lot of the concerns that have been perceived in our community," she said in the report. "It's clear that downtown development is the focus. The reality is we need growth in our neighborhood. People don't live in high-rise office buildings. My point is, how do we utilize TIFs and PILOTs in our neighborhoods?"

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said he was "pleased" that the task force recommended continuing the tax incentives. However, he said he was puzzled that members didn't note the number of jobs created by the projects.

"Curiously absent from the report, however, is any specific mention of the thousands of city jobs," O'Doherty said in a statement. He also said the report didn't capture the full scope of tax revenue generated by these incentives at neighborhood projects such as Mondawmin Mall, Belvedere Square, Charles Village and Clipper Mill.

Also on Thursday, Stokes' committee voted to expand a TIF zone for Under Armour Inc., a move that would allow the sports apparel company to expand its Locust Point headquarters.

Stokes said the decision did not violate his moratorium because it was an expansion of an existing TIF, not the creation of a new one.

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