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Residents debate forming tax district 4 adjacent communities in Midtown Baltimore to decide in Nov.


They have block-watch patrols and private security guards. But some residents of Bolton Hill still don't believe they've resolved their safety concerns.

And some are certain the answer lies in joining forces with Madison Park, Mount Vernon-Belvedere and Charles North to create the city's third special benefits district.

Bolton Hill and the other three communities will decide whether they want to pay an additional tax for extra security and sanitation when ballots are mailed Nov. 8. If the answer is yes, the Midtown Community Benefits District will be formed, bringing safety patrols to monitor the area and street sweepers to clean it.

Opponents say they don't need another layer of bureaucracy. Supporters believe the district is needed to allay fears of crime among residents who prefer the city but say crime and dirt threaten to send them to the suburbs.

"We don't see things improving unless we take control of the neighborhoods ourselves and start picking up some of the slack," said Deborah Diehl of Bolton Hill, president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association.

"Certainly our crime problems are not the equal of some neighborhoods in the city, but it's not as safe as we think it should be and it's certainly not as clean as it should be."

Proponents of the measure have solicited the advice of administrators of the two existing benefits districts in Charles Village and Downtown Baltimore.

The Midtown district would cover more than 100 city blocks and take in about 13,000 residences.

The effort has state and city approval, but needs a 58 percent majority of voting property owners and residents to become established. The deadline for returning ballots is Dec. 15, and results are expected to be counted by year's end.

Property owners would pay an additional 30 cents per $100 of assessed property value, which proponents say would raise the average tax bill about $150 a year.

The money would be administered by an elected board and a paid staff, who would decide what to spend on security, sanitation and other purposes such as marketing.

Beverly Fuller, executive director of the interim Midtown Community Benefits District, said leaders of the associations were brought together by common concerns about crime and grime.

Ms. Fuller lives in Mount Vernon-Belvedere, which is bounded by Mulberry Street, Jones Falls Expressway and Howard Street. The community is generally south of Charles North, which is bounded by Jones Falls, Howard Street and Lovegrove Alley.

She said the effort also is receiving financial support from nonprofit organizations, including the University of Baltimore, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Maryland Historical Society. The district has raised $50,000 in private contributions and $30,000 from the city.

In Bolton Hill, a neighborhood roughly bounded by North Avenue, Mount Royal Avenue, Howard Street, Dolphin Street and Eutaw Street, residents have a Citizens on Patrol program.To act as a deterrent to crime, residents, accompanied by a police officer, take turns driving their cars through the community.

But some residents thought a stronger deterrent was needed.

So three years ago the Bolton Hill Security Patrol was created to hire professional officers. These officers protect residents who pay for the patrol -- participating residents coming home late at night are met by the guards at their cars and escorted home.

Now, that's not enough.

"We didn't plan to have the private security patrols as a permanent solution," said Doreen B. Rosenthal, head of the Bolton Hill Security Patrol. "Ever since I first heard about special benefits districts, I thought this was the way to go. Security patrols have been an interim measure."

Opponents see little benefit in the district.

"We're perfectly satisfied with what police are doing," said Elaine Macklin, manager of the 284-unit Sutton Place Apartments in Bolton Hill. She said the building's tax bill would rise about $9,000 a year. "We feel like the tax is costly, and it's going to do nothing for us."

Madison Park borders Bolton Hill on the northwest and is bounded by North Avenue, Laurens Street, Eutaw Place and McCulloh Street.

Lee A. Calhoun, who has lived there for two years, said he believes most residents were left out in the early planning stages. He said he's not convinced the district would improve safety.

"I happen to think that people are looking for an easy fix," said Mr. Calhoun. "One hundred fifty dollars a year is not going to solve the problem. What is $150 going to get you other than a false sense of security?"

He said he is skeptical of special districts. "Does everyone else get a district? If so, what we've got is a citywide tax increase."

Linda D. Clark, also of Madison Park, said the area doesn't need more bureaucracy, which she said would be created by the measure. She also wondered if the services would be provided fairly, saying there always have been differences among the communities included in the plan.

"I don't see Madison Park, our four blocks, getting anything out of it," said Ms. Clark, a 17-year resident. "Bolton Hill never wanted to be bothered with us anyway. Now all of a sudden they're wooing us."

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