City leaders seek surtax for downtown properties

February 28, 1992|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- The idea wouldn't be to turn Baltimore's downtown district into a shopping center, but it's not a bad way to think about it, according to its proponents.

Like a shopping center, a "special benefits district" that city leaders would like to create would impose extra charges on its inhabitants to pay for special benefits such as heightened security, stepped-up maintenance and possibly even joint marketing programs.

Most owners of private buildings that pay property taxes probably would pay an extra 5 percent under a bill being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee. Private residences would be excluded.

The idea, supported by some of the city's biggest companies, is to bring shoppers back to the downtown area by providing some of the amenities of a shopping center.

"This particular shopping center is 300 years old, and nobody was thinking of these things back then," said lobbyist James J. Doyle Jr., making a rare appearance not as a paid advocate, but as a city resident and business tenant.

The bill that Mr. Doyle and city leaders are pushing for would allow the Baltimore City Council to create a Downtown Commercial District Management Authority to provide special benefits for roughly 1,000 private properties in a 90-block area of downtown Baltimore.

The program requires the owners of at least 51 percent of the assessed value of property in the district to vote for the plan.

With a 5 percent surtax, the management authority would receive about $2.3 million a year. The owner of a building assessed at $10 million would pay about $12,200 extra each year; a $400,000 building would generate less than $500 in extra taxes.

Proponents said that every jurisdiction in Maryland except Baltimore has the authority to create such a district.

Similar programs have been started in about 1,000 communities around the nation, said Baltimore lobbyist Henry Bogden, and none has been repealed.

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