ANNAPOLIS -- A "special benefits district" for downtown Baltimore, where commercial building owners would pay a surtax for cleaner streets and more security, cleared its last major hurdle in the General Assembly yesterday.
The Baltimore Senate delegation voted to approve the legislation, which other lawmakers have agreed to consider a local issue, subject only to the decisions of city legislators.
With the House delegation's approval of the measure earlier this week, yesterday's 8-1 vote means the House and Senate bills will become law if the two delegations can settle minor differences between their versions.
The legislation would allow the City Council to enact an ordinance giving building owners in the downtown area a chance to decide for themselves if the district should be established and the tax imposed.
Although the House and Senate bills don't specify a rate, supporters of the concept have indicated the surtax could be about 5 percent of a building's property taxes. The final amount would be recommended by a Downtown Commercial District Management Authority and approved by the city Board of Estimates.
A 5 percent tax would raise about $2.3 million for enhanced services aimed at fighting the "crime and grime" that city officials believe hamper the economic success of the area.
The district would be bounded roughly by Centre Street on the north, Greene Street on the west, the Jones Falls Expressway to the east, and the south shore of the Inner Harbor.
The senators amended the bill yesterday to include Key Highway and the Harborview apartment and condominium project.
"There's a need for increased security and protection in the downtown district," Sen. John A. Pica Jr., chairman of the city's Senate delegation, said after the vote.
Only Sen. George W. Della Jr. voted against the plan, which he blasted as another unneeded level of government and bureaucracy.