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Baltimore spending board approves agreement with state for demolition funds

Baltimore's spending panel has approved a legal agreement with the state that will govern the multimillion-dollar plan to tear down 4,000 vacant houses and redevelop blighted sections of the city.

The approval of the memorandum of understanding on Wednesday was a key step in Gov. Larry Hogan's pledge to commit about $74 million in state money over four years to demolish vacant buildings in the city.

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The Board of Estimates approved the agreement after lengthy negotiations among the city, the state and the Maryland Stadium Authority, which will oversee the demolition of vacant structures selected by city and state leaders.

Hogan announced the project with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in January but didn't allocate money for it in his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year. The governor said last week he was waiting until the city finalized the paperwork and plans before releasing a supplemental budget that would include the spending.

Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday the plan would "revitalize" neighborhoods at a "pace we've never seen before."

The agreement would be effective through June 30, 2019. Any spending proposed by Hogan would require the approval of the General Assembly to become law. Lawmakers are holding hearings on Hogan's budget.

City officials estimate they could demolish 20 blocks in the first year of the plan. Properties would be turned into green spaces and then offered to developers.

The state is offering $600 million in financing options for development. The money comes from existing government programs. About $300 million is from a federal program for privatizing public housing and $210 million in bonds for affordable housing projects in Baltimore.

In other business, the Board of Estimates agreed to cut a $200,000 check to help H&S Bakery move its Harbor East distribution center to an industrial area of East Baltimore. The Rawlings-Blake administration agreed to offer the subsidy if H&S President John Paterakis kept his business in Baltimore.

The money will pay for "the costs associated with the utilities relocation at the Hollander 95 Business Park in East Baltimore," according to board documents. "The utility relocation is necessary to retain the H&S Bakery distribution center with approximately 50 jobs in the city of Baltimore. ... Retaining the H&S Bakery facility in the City will allow for additional real estate and economic development in the burgeoning Inner Harbor East/Fells Point neighborhoods."

The board also approved a $1 million, four-year contract with a consultant to study whether the city should repair or replace the aging Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge on Hanover Street in South Baltimore. The city plans to use a federal grant to hire AECOM Technical Services Inc. to study the bridge, which is nearly 100 years old and a main route to get to the port of Baltimore. Residents complain that the bridge is riddled with potholes.

The study comes as Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank is planning a massive development in Port Covington, for which the bridge would serve as a main route. Rawlings-Blake said plans to repair the bridge predate Plank's development proposals.

Additionally, the spending panel approved $400,000 for repairs and maintenance of security cameras for public housing complexes. Plans call for 12 new security cameras at the Poe Homes in West Baltimore and the elimination of 21 cameras from East Baltimore's Pleasant View Gardens, which is being privatized.

The board also approved back pay for a firefighter who was suspended in May after he was charged with assault. Devon D. Scott, 26, was suspended from May 1 to Jan. 15. He has been returned to duty.

Police accused Scott of cutting a man in the neck with a knife outside a Taco Bell in the 6800 block of Loch Raven Blvd. Online records show he pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and two other charges were dropped.

Scott and his attorney declined to comment.

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