Downtown tax bill gets OK Higher levies, more services in special zone.


The City Council gave final approval last night to establishment of a downtown district where commercial property owners will pay higher taxes in exchange for more sanitation and security services.

The downtown management district will consist of a roughly 98-block area in which commercial properties will be levied a property tax surcharge. That surcharge is expected to be 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, or 3.2 percent, but the figure must be approved by the Board of Estimates.

In return for the surcharge, the district will be patrolled by sanitation workers who will sweep sidewalks, remove graffiti, weed tree boxes, shovel snow and sweep alleys. Uniformed public safety guides will be trained to provide information to visitors and keep in contact with police.

The district's services will supplement existing city services. The legislation still needs the signature of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who has said before that he will sign it.

The management district is expected to have a budget of about $2 million a year and will be operated by the Downtown Partnership, a private management and advocacy group. Most of the budget -- $1.7 million -- would come from the tax surcharge, while other funds are expected from private donations and contributions from tax-exempt properties within the district.

Most of Baltimore's downtown management district is expected to begin operation in October, said Laurie B. Schwartz, president of the Downtown Partnership.

An eight-block portion of the district along Howard Street near Maryland General Hospital will go into operation early next year, she said.

Legislation necessary to allow Baltimore to create a special benefits district was approved by the Maryland General Assembly this year.

At the time, the district was envisioned as being bounded roughly by Centre Street on the north, Greene Street on the west, the Jones Falls Expressway on the east and the Inner Harbor on the south. But before going to the City Council, the boundaries were modified to cut out many of the Inner Harbor attractions, the new stadium and some areas on the west side of downtown.

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