Baltimore’s leaders plan to offer local police officers, firefighters and sheriff's deputies a property tax break of $2,500 a year if they own a home in the city.
Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Councilman Eric T. Costello are expected to introduce legislation that would allow the discount at a council meeting Monday. Young’s office provided an advance copy of the measure to The Baltimore Sun.
“Having more of our city’s public safety officials reside in Baltimore makes great sense from a fiscal standpoint, and will go a long way toward building better relationships between officers and the public they’re sworn to serve,” Young said in a statement.
Officials have sought in recent years to draw more police officers in particular to live in the city. They hope that would improve the relationship between the department and the community, which has been strained by years of policing that a federal investigation concluded often involved people’s rights being violated.
Fewer than one in five Baltimore Police officers live in Baltimore, according to police data.
The measure has the backing of Mayor Catherine Pugh, who as a state senator sponsored the 2016 legislation that authorized the city to offer the tax credit.
“I believe the passage of this legislation will encourage this important group to make our city their home,” Pugh said in a statement.
If the bill is to become law, it must advance from a City Council committee and then receive approval of the full 15-member council.
The property tax rate in Baltimore is more than twice that in some surrounding counties, making even similarly priced houses much more expensive to own.
Alyssia Essig, the president-elect of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, said the credit could have a significant impact because it would allow officers and firefighters to borrow some $40,000 more to buy a home.
“I love the idea, it’s a step in the right direction and I think it really helps those who are giving back to the community the most,” she said. “There are plenty of people who want to live in the city, but they’re priced out.”
State legislative analysts estimated that had the tax break gone into effect for the fiscal year that began in July, the city would have lost $1.7 million in tax revenue. The cost would rise to $2.7 million by 2022 if the number of police officers, firefighters, EMTs and deputies residing in the city grows by 3 percent a year. The program also would cost $440,000 to administer for five years.
But Costello, chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, said attracting officers to live in the city would provide an economic boost as they spend their paychecks at local businesses.
“In addition to having our public safety officers live in our city and making a positive impact on our local economy, this legislation should help grow our city,” he said in a statement.
Some cities have tried requiring officers to live locally, but it’s common for only a minority of police officers in big departments to live in the jurisdictions they serve, according an analysis of Census data by the website FiveThirtyEight.
There are notable exceptions: Almost 90 percent of Chicago officers live in the city and in Philadelphia the figure is almost 85 percent.
In Baltimore, the number of officers who live in the city has fallen in recent years, to 19.5 percent at the end of 2016 from 21.4 percent the year before. The drop came despite renewed efforts by the Police Department to recruit more local residents.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the tax break would be one among several incentives the department offers, including educational benefits and referral bonuses, to rebuild its depleted ranks.
“This is yet another tool to help fulfill our goals of recruitment and retention, which have enormously expanded over the past two years,” Davis said in a statement.
After passing the property tax break legislation for Baltimore last year, the General Assembly extended the program across the state in its most recent session. It’s not clear how many jurisdictions will offer the benefit.
Andy Barth, a spokesman for Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, said officials there are considering it. Owen McEvoy, a spokesman for Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh, said officials are planning to offer a one-time $2,000 bonus to public safety workers who buy a home in the county.
The General Assembly also considered a measure to provide a similar benefit in Baltimore to officers who rent a home, but it did not pass.