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Tax zones debate centers on need for more security


In Bolton Hill, Madison Park and South Charles Village, homeowners, business people and politicians are debating the necessity of creating special taxing districts to pay for private security guards and sanitation workers to augment municipal services.

Today and tomorrow, the Baltimore delegation to the General Assembly gets its chance to discuss Community Benefit District legislation.

Three bills sponsored by state Sen. Julian L. Lapides that would create special taxing districts in Bolton Hill, South Charles Village and citywide will be heard today by the city's nine senators.

A bill sponsored by Democratic Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr. that would create a special taxing district in South Charles Village will be heard tomorrow by the 27-member House delegation.

The legislation, if enacted, would allow the mayor and City Council to establish the special districts and slap an extra tax on both residential and commercial properties to pay for the extra services.

Downtown property owners, who already have a special taxing district, hired 63 public safety and sanitation workers who officially started work this week to combat crime and grime in the central business area.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is among the skeptics of such districts because they would highlight differences between neighborhoods that can afford to pay for augmented services and those that can't. He favors a district in South Charles Village, a mixed commercial-residential area north of downtown, if it's a pilot project lasting only three years.

"We are supporting Charles Village because they have been involved in the planning process for over two years. However, we have very serious concerns about Balkanizing the city," Mr. Schmoke said yesterday.

Said Democratic Sen. John A. Pica Jr., "The problem that many of us have is that the poorer neighborhoods are left with the same lack of resources in the future as they have now, whereas the wealthier neighborhoods can afford to pay an additional fee to protect themselves." Mr. Pica is the head of the city's Senate delegation.

Mr. Lapides, a Democrat, said that after he introduced the bills for South Charles Village and Bolton Hill, he heard from so many interested people in other neighborhoods that he introduced the citywide bill.

"I'm hoping that my generic bill is the only one to pass," he said. "I have concerns about [the districts] being just for privileged neighborhoods," Mr. Lapides said. But he added that some "privileged neighborhoods might be more vulnerable" to some crimes, such as burglaries.

Mr. Lapides' generic bill would give the City Council blanket authority to establish a district anywhere in Baltimore if 51 BTC percent of the property owners agreed.

While many businesses in South Charles Village have been working to get the district, some property owners there are against it.

"I think it's a foolhardy idea," said John Hubble, a real estate broker and property owner in the area.

"It's a breakdown of the administration of the city. What is the city for -- it's for health, safety and welfare and they're not doing that," said Mr. Hubble, who has collected 11 letters from property owners opposed to paying an extra tax.

But in affluent Bolton Hill and working-class Madison Park, communities just west of downtown, a majority of 75 residents who attended a meeting of the Mount Royal Improvement Association on Tuesday night overwhelmingly favored the special taxing district, said Richards Badmington, a board member of the neighborhood group.


Members of the Baltimore delegation to the General Assembly will hear testimony today and tomorrow on enabling legislation that would allow the city to create special taxing districts for residents wanting private security, sanitation and other services.

* Senate Bill 311 (South Charles Village), Senate Bill 414 (Bolton Hill) and Senate Bill 449 (citywide), all sponsored by Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, will be heard by city Senate delegation at 4 p.m. today in Room 300 of the James Senate Office Building.

* House Bill 661, (South Charles Village), sponsored by Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., D-Baltimore, will be heard by the city House delegation at 9 a.m. tomorrow in Room 318 of the Lowe House Office Building.

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