A century and a half ago when travelers traversed present-day Pikesville, they had to pay a toll: A score of sheep could pass for 20 cents.
They can't raise money for improvements in Pikesville like that any more. Instead, merchants in that northwest Baltimore County community are forming a special tax district to better coordinate their marketing, spruce up their streets and combat the malls that have wooed away much of their business.
With recent approval by the County Council, Pikesville is creating a commercial district management authority. Details remain to be worked out, but businesses will pay into a fund that will be used to better advertise Pikesville as a shopping and dining destination, to plant trees and to clean and possibly patrol the streets. The venture will be the county's first, but the approach also is being considered by businesses along the Liberty Road corridor and in Towson.
The idea isn't new. A dozen similar efforts have been tried for years in Maryland towns as diverse as urban College Park and country-quaint Cambridge. Baltimore City is seeking to create a special tax district for downtown merchants. It's what the malls are all about: coordinating aesthetics, gaining advertising clout, creating consumer excitement.
Pikesville leaders, in fact, rejected a grant years ago to begin their group, because they feared they weren't ready and would only get one chance to succeed. After years of talk, the businesses there should be commended for their bootstraps approach to bettering their market, which can only help the surrounding residential neighborhoods.
The beauty of the plan lies in individuals helping themselves, paying a special levy whose revenues they will control. By the same token, Baltimore County should do all it can to assist.
When County Executive Roger Hayden recently listed projects he sees as long-term remedies for Baltimore County's financial woes, he named the home-run projects: a huge industrial park now on the drawing board, the town centers taking shape, the budding biotechnology industry. His administration shouldn't overlook smaller gains toward the goals of more jobs, greater tax revenue from business expansion and a better quality of life. A revived Pikesville business district would do just that.