Another special tax district?


An effort is under way to allow a second residential neighborhood in Baltimore to levy additional taxes to pay for private security and sanitation services. It's good to see people want to invest more in Baltimore to make it a more livable city, but wouldn't it make sense to wait until the first residential special benefits district can be properly evaluated before attempting to create another one?

It has been just six months since a referendum approved creating a special tax district in Charles Village, South Charles Village and a small part of Waverly. An executive director and a community outreach leader have been hired. They have set up an office, accepted a low bid for security services and are hiring people to help keep streets clean. But the program is still in its infancy.

Nevertheless, a proposal has been introduced in the Baltimore City Council to create a Midtown Special Benefits District that would include Mount Vernon-Belvedere and Bolton Hill. The Planning Commission will consider the proposal tomorrow. A special tax district has existed downtown since 1992. The proposed midtown district would include the University of Baltimore and link areas from the edge of the Inner Harbor to Johns Hopkins University.

University of Baltimore President H. Mebane Turner says his institution, like Johns Hopkins, wants to do more to improve the quality of life for students and employees. "It's not that the city has let us down, it just has a lot more responsibility than it did when I came here 30 years ago," he said.

People do need to recognize the additional burdens that city governments face while their ability to meet those challenges diminishes. Federal assistance is dwindling. Still, there is not yet enough evidence to say the city should create more special tax districts.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke initially rejected the notion of a Charles Village special tax district. He said it could lead to "Balkanization of the city," with extra services provided only for neighborhoods that can afford to pay an extra tax. He later agreed to the proposal as an "experiment" that should be evaluated before new districts are created. Any expansion of such programs at this early stage would be premature.

Proponents of a midtown district want it in place before legislation allowing such referendums in Maryland expires in 1997. They want to use the successful special tax district downtown as a gauge. But the downtown district primarily affects businesses. The Charles Village district should be their model, and that model is incomplete.

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