Rawlings-Blake backs tax credits for urban farms

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says she is throwing her support behind City Councilman William "Pete" Welch's bill calling for a large tax break for urban farmers in Baltimore.

In legislation pending in a City Council committee, Welch is seeking a 90 percent break on property taxes for urban farmers who grow and sell at least $5,000 of fruit and vegetables a year. The credits, which must be approved by the city's Cffice of Sustainability, are good for five years, but can be renewed for a total of 10 years, according to the bill.

Welch has 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.

Seven of 15 City Council members have signed on to co-sponsor Welch's bill. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Rawlings-Blake is planning a news conference for 10 a.m. to promote the measure. 

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.

Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said the new bill is needed because several urban farms in Baltimore are smaller than five acres and therefore do not qualify for a state-authorized tax break.

He said Welch's bill is different than the version opposed by Rawlings-Blake's finance department three years ago. That legislation, he said, could have also granted credits to property owners who merely preserve land.

"The new bill strikes the right balance between being fiscally responsible and creating the conditions for a stimulus effect for more of these urban farms coming into Baltimore City to address neighborhood blight and food deserts," Harris said. lbroadwater@baltsun.com Twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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