Armed with a slide show, glossy pamphlets and the breathless zeal of a used car salesman, a cadre of city officials has crisscrossed the city touting a $32 million bond package that the mayor wants Baltimoreans to vote for in the Nov. 7 general election.
Since the day after the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, countless residents from Mount Washington to East Baltimore to Morrell Park have heard the pitch: The bonds will renovate blighted neighborhoods and schools, attract biotechnology firms, expand the Baltimore Zoo and remove asbestos from city-owned buildings.
Everyone in the city's planning department -- excluding secretarial staff -- and all of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's 40 or so Cabinet members have been assigned to conduct at least one presentation to many of the city's community associations. So ,, far, 162 community associations have been given the pitch; 20 more will get it before the election.
People in the Lauraville Improvement Association took it pretty well, says president Mark S. Benson. "Two people refused to watch it because they thought it was too one-sided," Mr. Benson said.
On the ballot are eight items that can be voted on individually:
* $8 million for community development to improve housing, encourage home ownership with loans to homebuyers and to complete other public improvements.
* $2.5 million for a Residential and Commercial Financing Plan operated by the Baltimore Community Development Financing Corp. to restore vacant houses and improve commercial properties to promote neighborhood stability.
* $6.5 million for an economic development loan fund to revitalize the Howard Street corridor, and to develop a children's museum and laboratory space for biotechnology companies.
* $1 million to be borrowed by Sinai Hospital for expansion of its emergency department.
* $1 million to remove asbestos from city-owned buildings.
* $500,000 to improve the Cherry Hill Park and Swimming Pool and Bath House.
* $2,225,000 for the Baltimore Zoo.
* $10 million to renovate schools, pay for school equipment and remove asbestos from schools.
Israel Patoka, division manager for the Capital Improvement Program, said that response to the 10-minute slide program, which shows dilapidated schools and buildings and renderings of proposed structures, has been positive. He said people are most willing to support the school loans and are less excited about structural improvements such as asbestos removal.
"One of the most frequent questions is how does this impact our taxes. It doesn't. The city has maintained a strong policy of retiring old debt at the same rate that it takes on new debt," Mr. Patoka said.
Of the proposed $10 million bond issue for schools, $5 million would be used for extensive renovation of Hamilton Elementary School and Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School.
Also included in the school bond would be $2 million to remove asbestos in schools; $1.7 million to replace roofs and for other exterior renovations in schools throughout the city; and $800,000 for planning and design work at Harbor Learning Center and Glenmount Elementary School.
The $8 million to be used for community development is slated for nine projects, including $1.4 million for a loan program to encourage home ownership, $1 million for a loan program to encourage property owners to bring their properties up to housing code standards, and nearly $3 million to acquire and demolish deteriorated properties.
The $6.5 million Economic Development Loan bond issue would fund five projects: $2 million to help convert the Fishmarket in Market Place into a children's museum (Port Discovery); $1 million for improvements to industrial areas in Fairfield and East Baltimore; $1 million for cafes and art galleries on Howard Street; $1.5 million to acquire land and buildings for future economic development projects; and $1 million to lure biotechnology companies.
A $2,225,000 bond issue would be used by the Baltimore Zoo to create climate-controlled habitat exhibits for plants and animals.
The city has agreed to pay back the $32 million in the next 40 years with money from the city's General Fund.