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Councilman calls for changes after City Hall printer breakdown halts real estate market

A City Councilman is calling for changes after a specialized printer in Baltimore's finance department broke down, bringing the city's residential real estate market to a temporary halt.

Councilman Eric T. Costello, whose district includes Federal Hill, Downtown and Bolton Hill, wrote a letter this week to the city's finance director asking for the city to "immediately" develop a back-up plan should the printer break down again.

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"This breakdown resulted in a backlog of over 1,000 lien certificates, and brought the City's real estate market to a grinding halt," Costello wrote. "This impacted several of my constituents in Bolton Hill and Druid Heights, who had to postpone their closings and scramble at the last minute to acquire all of their documentation in order to close on rescheduled dates. In one case, this malfunction endangered the prospective home buyer's financing."

The Sun reported last month that the printer -- which produces lien certificates, a critical piece of paperwork needed for closing on a home sale -- broke down July 7 and was not repaired for more than a week.

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Costello wrote to Finance Director Henry J. Raymond that Baltimore officials should take steps to avoid such a situation in the future.

"If contingency plans do not exist, the City should develop them immediately," he wrote. "Without such plans, we risk hampering our real estate market during a crucial time."

Mayoral spokesman Howard Libit said finance officials have purchased a second printer as a backup, and are currently programming it to print the lien certificates.

"That programming is underway right now," Libit said. "Having two dedicated printers should ensure the July issue is not repeated."

Libit said the printer costs about $800, but with its programming costs $8,000. He said he did have the make and model immediately available.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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