Baltimore should give back territory it annexed from the counties a century ago
By David Placher
Jul 25, 2017 | 4:15 PM
Baltimore businesses destroyed during riots sue city officials for failing to prevent violence. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)
With Baltimore's elected officials still unable to offer a long-term plan to fix the city's high-poverty neighborhoods and crime problems, I offer mine: There needs to be a tri-jurisdictional collaborative, with Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties agreeing to take back regions previously annexed by Baltimore a century ago.
At first, revocation of the annexation of 1918, when the city grew from a size of about 30 square miles to almost 90, may seem absurd. But a closer examination of the neighborhoods that would be impacted shows their fortunes would rise under the counties' control.
If Brooklyn, Curtis Bay and Hawkins Point returned to Anne Arundel County, those areas would benefit from Anne Arundel's resources, which include a well-managed and acclaimed public school system, a fiscally responsible county government and a police department that is not under the public microscope. Anne Arundel is among the wealthiest counties in the country's wealthiest state; it could jump start the economy — and boost the population morale — in its former neighborhoods that are now under the city's disastrous control.
West Port, Morrell Park, Franklin Town, Howard Park, Park Heights, Roland Park, Hamilton, parts of Highlandtown, and all the other areas that were grabbed from Baltimore County should also be returned. Baltimore County is also in the top half of wealthiest counties in the state, and it is known for having a well-staffed police force, an exceptional public infrastructure program and a better public school system than the city's.
The State Department of Assessments and Taxation estimates that there are more than 400 properties that straddle the city line, incurring property taxes in two jurisdictions and receiving what residents describe as sometimes haphazard delivery of public services.
The property tax rates in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties are less than half the city's alarming $2.25 per $100 of assessed value — the highest in the state and a real drain on families. Any increase in tax rates in those areas would not approach rate the city pays, and governments in the counties have at least demonstrated that they can manage budgets.
If the city's borders were reduced, the city would also benefit because it could reassess its property taxes, restructure its government, re-elevate its services, rework its police force and rethink its strategy for the remaining high-poverty neighborhoods. It could also afford to offer more assistance in redeveloping Pimlico and its struggling neighborhoods.
The most recent U.S. Census shows that the city lost around one percent of its population last year and its surrounding counties grew, so the counties' borders would simply expand to reflect their population growth and the city's borders would shrink to reflect its continuing population decline.
The 1918 annexation has always been controversial and questionable. The city and the Maryland legislature ignored the concerns of those annexed by not offering them a vote. In 1948, Sen. William Bolton noted the city "successfully exploited a loophole in the Constitution [to] annex some of the most valuable portions of Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties." He successfully pushed for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the city from extending its borders without the approval of those to be annexed.
Following complaints from some riders about long wait times in the first week of the BaltimoreLink bus route overhaul, the Maryland Transit Administration said Monday it would increase early morning service on three of its high-frequency east-west CityLink routes.
In addition, the economic hardships in the neighborhoods located in the west part of the city are rooted in old segregated policies that well-intentioned political leaders have tried to trim back for years by promoting dysfunctional bus systems or floating ill-conceived ideas about a subway that would transport people to imaginary high-paying jobs.
But gardening teaches us that you cannot trim unwanted plants; you must rip them from their roots. The west part of the city is about 30 miles from the economic powerhouse of Washington, D.C. If it had a state of the art "Gold Line" to connect to the D.C. Metro, the property values and economic growth in the area would increase. The design phase of the "Gold Line" would offer residents a real chance to provide feedback for station locations. This alone would help unify high-poverty neighborhoods, where residents have witnessed the economic growth in the city's downtown from a distance, and at the same time, witnessed the continued economic decline immediately around them.
Some city elected officials may say that redrawing Baltimore's borders is too politically complicated, but to offer solutions to decade old problems takes bold ideas. The Maryland legislature should seriously consider this one.