The head of a taxpayers' group says the organization will press for a 10-cent reduction in Baltimore's property tax rate, the highest in the state.
"Even acknowledging this is a tight budget, we are still going to press for a 10-cent reduction in the tax rate," David B. Rudow, president of the Baltimore City Homeowner's Coalition For Fair Property Taxes Inc., said yesterday.
The coalition includes about 200 community and business groups.
Rudow said the city can achieve the reduction by scaling back or eliminating altogether non-essential services and paring the work force even more. And if that means layoffs of municipal employees, so be it, he added.
"Baltimore County is doing it, and they are calling for a reduction in their tax rate," Rudow said. "Our property owners, whose taxes support the services provided by the city, need relief also."
Mayor Kurt Schmoke's $2.1 billion proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, which he sent to the Board of Estimates yesterday, doesn't anticipate any reduction in services or layoffs, and maintains the property tax at $5.95 per $100 of assessed value.
The tax rate is the highest in the state and $3.06 higher than in Baltimore County, where County Executive Roger B. Hayden has proposed a budget that would lop 2 cents from the tax rate.
Schmoke and Edward J. Gallagher, the budget director, both contend that in the last three years, more than 1,500 positions have been eliminated from the city work force and that the proposed budget calls for 338 more to be cut.
Further reductions of personnel would mean cuts in services, and trimming the tax rate would mean layoffs, both of which the mayor is determined to avoid.
Rudow said significant property tax reduction could be achieved this year if the city retained the controversial container tax.
The levy can generate between $6 million and $7 million in annual revenue. A penny in the tax rate equals $787,484 in the budget. Thus, $7 million in revenue would equal nearly 9 cents on the tax rate.
City finance officials have included $6.9 million in container tax revenue in the proposed budget. But next Monday, the City Council, under pressure from the bottling industry, is expected to approve legislation that would repeal the levy, effective May 31.
Council members hope to substitute the container tax revenue with revenue from a $10-a-ton service charge on tipping fees paid by commercial waste haulers at city landfills and incinerators.
Rudow said there is no reason that both sources of revenue could not be kept. It's up to the council, he said, to make that tough political decision.
"We'll be lobbying the council and this is, after all, an election year," Rudow said.
The council, which cut the tax rate by 5 cents two years ago -- is still committed to a further 10-cent reduction.
"There is still over two months to go before the council has to approve the budget and anything can happen," said Council President Mary Pat Clarke. "If we carefully scrutinize the budget and look for all possible forms of new revenue, there is still a chance for a tax-rate cut."
Like Rudow, Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, favored keeping the container tax and using the revenue to reduce the tax rate.
Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st, however, said that if the city has any extra revenue, it should be used to restore the negotiated wage increases for municipal employees that have been frozen by the mayor. The freeze is to save the city $38.1 million in the next fiscal year.
Given the sluggish economy, Councilwoman Jacqueline F. McLean, D-2nd, said that it might not be fiscally responsible to cut the tax rate this year.