A midtown 'benefits district' Taxing themselves: Neighborhoods want to pay more for added security and cleanliness.


SPECIAL BENEFITS TAX districts are nothing new for Maryland. They have been around since 1929 in Anne Arundel County, where 14 new taxing districts have been created in the last six years. But the situation there is different from Baltimore, which only has two such districts, with voters currently deciding in a mail-in referendum whether to add a third.

In Anne Arundel, the best way for many waterfront communities to pay to maintain roads and piers is by placing a special tax on themselves. Now some Baltimoreans are saying that's the only way they're going to get adequate police protection and clean streets.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, an early critic of special benefits districts, has since reluctantly joined the bandwagon. In essence, he is admitting the city's current tax base won't support its doing much more than it already is to fulfill the public's expectations of city government.

Twice in the past three years, Mr. Schmoke's proposals to increase the piggyback income tax to raise money for public safety failed. And twice the mayor, prodded by the City Council, trimmed a nickel from the city's property tax rate. But, at $5.85 per $100 of assessed value, it is still the highest by far in Maryland.

The city's first special benefits district began in 1992 when commercial property owners in the central business district created the Downtown Partnership. They agreed to tax themselves an additional 23 cents per $100 to fight crime and grime. Using that as its model, residents voted last year to create a Charles Village Special Benefits District and tax themselves an additional 30 cents per $100.

That is the same amount by which taxes would be increased in Bolton Hill, Madison Park, Mount Vernon-Belvedere and Charles North if residents and property owners there agree to create a Midtown Special Benefits District. Ballots were mailed Nov. 8 and must be returned by Dec. 15. It must be approved by at least 58 percent of those voting.

Too bad the Midtown vote is occurring before the Charles Village district can be properly assessed. It has only had security guards and clean-up crews on the street since June. Then again, Midtown residents already know what services they have now and that it appears unrealistic to expect the city to provide more.

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