Councilman wants 90% tax break for urban farmers

City Councilman William "Pete" Welch is calling for a large tax break for urban farmers in Baltimore.

In legislation he plans to introduce Thursday, Welch is seeking a 90 percent break on property taxes for an urban farmer who grows and sells at least $5,000 of fruit and vegetables in a year.

Welch said he hopes the legislation will help eliminate the city's so-called food deserts in which some neighborhoods have no access to healthy food nearby. 

"We have a disparity in access to fresh fruit and vegetables," Welch said. 

Such legislation was last tried three years ago by City Council members Mary Pat Clarke and Warren Branch, but it was opposed by the mayor's office who argued it would set a bad precedent for an already cash-strapped city. Their bill, which promised a 100 percent property tax break to urban farmers, died in committee. 

The bill found support from Councilwoman Belinda Conaway and Councilman Bill Henry, but was opposed by Council Vice Chariman Edwarrd Reisinger and committee chairman Carl Stokes. The committee's other member, Councilman William Cole IV, was not present. The tie vote meant the measure failed to pass.

Clarke expressed outrage at the time after learning that the the city's finance department had urged her colleagues to vote against the bill. 

"I know we give tax breaks to well-to-do developers," Clarke said. Urban farmers, she said, "aren't wealthy. They're not well-heeled. They don't hang out and sit with their suits at tables and talk about how they'll help the city. They just do it."

Welch said he's met with some other council members about the issue, and believes it has a good chance to pass this year. 

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