City Council likely to approve 5-cent property tax cut

June 18, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

Key members of the Baltimore City Council said yesterday that they are virtually certain of approving a cut in the city's property tax rate of as much as 5 cents when the council meets in a special session today.

"The money is there, more than enough," said Council President Mary Pat Clarke. "It is about time we faced up to the fact that there are enough resources in this city if city government tightens its belt."

But the council was forced to schedule today's meeting after they failed to agree in a meeting yesterday on how to make up for the $3.9 million in lost property tax revenues such a cut would entail.

Council members, who caucused in aseries of frenzied meetings that pushed the normal 5 p.m. meeting time back by 2 1/2 hours, are hoping to knit together a revenue package from a variety of sources to balance the tax cut.

Such revenue sources would include increased fees for the use of city-owned trash disposal facilities and higher-than-expected income from the city's pension investments. Other balancing revenue sources might include a so-called "generator fee" imposed on large items, such as washing machines and other items that eventually take up space in landfills.

Several council members have said they will not agree to a tax cut unless the council also finds revenues to hire as many as 50 additional police officers and 19 housing inspectors, which together would require a $2.5 million addition tothe budget.

"What I hear people talking about is drugs, crime and dilapidated housing, that's what I hear in the street," said Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th, who said he is more concerned with maintaining services than with cutting taxes.

The tax and revenue issues have come before the council as it is considering the city's $1.79 billion fiscal year 1992 budget. Mrs. Clarke scheduled today's council meeting because by law the council must approve a balanced budget in time for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Because the city's $5.95 per $100 of assessed value is by far the highest in the state, tax cutting has become a passionate issue among several council members, who say it is vital to the city's abilityto retain middle-class families.

After last night's marathon meeting ended, an exasperated Mrs. Clarke accused city budget officials of being less than candid with council members to thwart efforts to pare the budget. "This is the most frustrating week I've ever had in terms of the finance department squirreling away money," she said.

Meanwhile, an effort to repeal the tax on beverage containers fizzled as only nine of the council's 19 members showed a willingness to override the veto Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke imposed on May 30.

Although Mrs. Clarke said she is not willing to concede defeat, other council members said that with 15 votes needed to override the mayor's veto, the prospects are dim that the city will end the tax any time soon.

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