The City Council's preliminary approval of a budget for fiscal ++ 1992 should give residents cause for hope. Despite the infighting that has prevailed in recent months, the council -- in the end -- pulled together to come up with a plan that not only reduces the property tax rate but also provides enough money for 50 additional police officers and 18 more housing inspectors.
Credit deft politicking by the seven-member black coalition, which essentially put the council in the position of either approving new fees to fund more police and housing positions or finding itself without enough revenue to provide property tax relief. The nickel cut that the council made does not, in reality, amount to very much on anyone's annual tax bill. And even at $5.90, the city's property tax rate will remain the highest in the state.
Nonetheless, the tax cut, on top of a nickel reduction last year, clearly shows that local lawmakers are committed to reversing the flight of the middle-class. It is not that simple, of course. Baltimore's revitalization will require many complex changes, not the least of which is education reform. Moreover, the kind of significant tax relief needed to make the city's rate competitive with those of the surrounding counties is beyond the scope of local officials. That will come only if the state takes action -- either by enacting a Linowes-type tax reform and redistribution plan, setting one statewide property tax rate -- or both. These changes may be a long way down the political road.
In the meantime, the city will have to walk a fine line to provide even token property tax relief and keep services intact. The fiscal '92 budget is a sign that so far, it is doing pretty well.