Council members outline ways to chop city's property tax rate by nickel


An article in Tuesday's editions of The Sun gave an incomplete account of $3.8 million in savings proposed in the city budget. About $1.3 million comes from reserves, the other $2.5 million from capital cuts.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Fourteen Baltimore City Council members have taken the mayor up on his challenge and proposed savings in the budget to allow a nickel cut in the property tax rate.

In a letter to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the Board of Estimates, the majority of council members outlined several options that they believe should be used for a tax break.

They also called for restoring funding for programs for gifted and talented students at 51 elementary schools by cutting the amount spent on the central administration.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke plans to deliver the letter this morning to her colleagues on the Board of Estimates, who will review the budget next week. Mayor Schmoke is in South Africa with the U.S. delegation for the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela.

"I felt very strongly this year that it should come from the Board of Estimates level. . . ," Mrs. Clarke said yesterday. "We wanted to demonstrate the consensus of the council around this issue. We can do this, and we should do this."

Two weeks ago, Mrs. Clarke said nearly $2 million in savings from the cancellation of the city's contract with the Pulaski Highway incinerator should be used to cut property taxes. At $5.90 per $100 of assessed value, Baltimore has the state's highest property tax rate.

But, city financial officials said yesterday that the expected savings from the incinerator contract could be closer to $1 million.

Mayor Schmoke has mentioned combining the incinerator savings with an increase in some permit fees to allow a tax break. But he has not committed himself to a specific plan, said his legislative liaison, Peter N. Marudas.

"I know the mayor said he would try his best, but they're still working on the budget," Mr. Marudas said.

Council members attempted to cut the property tax rate by 5 cents last year. But the mayor vetoed the attempt, saying he needed more money to hire police officers.

When Mr. Schmoke presented his $2.2 billion budget proposal this spring, he said a decline in tax revenues from downtown office buildings left little room for a tax cut. He challenged the council to show him the savings to permit a nickel reduction.

In their letter, the 14 council members outlined savings that included the canceled incinerator contract and $3.8 million reductions in capital projects. Also, they proposed using $4 million in reserves.

"I think the mayor is of a mind that there's a broad consensus of folks who think we should come up with a plan of annually decreasing the property taxes," said Councilman Carl Stokes, a 2nd District Democrat.

Mr. Stokes and Mrs. Clarke signed the request along with the following council members: Vera P. Hall, Iris G. Reeves and Rochelle "Rikki" Spector of the 5th District; Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham and Martin O'Malley of the 3rd District; Perry Sfikas, John L. Cain and Nicholas D'Adamo of the 1st District; Sheila Dixon and Agnes Welch of the 4th District; Anthony J. Ambridge of the 2nd District; and Melvin L. Stukes of the 6th District.

Five council members had not signed the request by last night: Paula Johnson Branch of the 2nd District; Martin E. "Mike" Curran of the 3rd District; Lawrence A. Bell III of the 4th District; and Joseph J. DiBlasi and Timothy D. Murphy of the 6th District.

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