Last year when the Schmoke administration merged the center-city's promotion unit into Baltimore's overall economic development organization, some critics wondered if that meant a faltering city commitment to downtown and its many problems. A clear answer has finally been given: The strong commitment is still there but the burden of financing downtown services and improvements is shifting to the private sector.
This is the essence of a proposal to levy a 5 percent surcharge on commercial real estate taxes on 1,000 private properties in a 90-block area from the Inner Harbor to Centre Street. The extra revenue collected would be used to supplement existing municipal sanitation and security services in the area as well as to promote it with shoppers.
Confronted with fiscal problems, cities throughout the nation have taken this kind of commercial surcharge approach to solving downtown management and image problems. Philadelphia adopted a tax surcharge for its downtown last year and produced instant and dramatic results. With a private corps of sweepers helping to keep streets clean and "public safety ambassadors" aiding uniformed police, shoppers felt more confident in doing business downtown. As a result, cash registers have been ringing happily despite bad economic times.