Taxing district is sought Charles Village wants protection

January 31, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

Shocked into action two years ago by the brutal murder of a young father of two, a community association in Baltimore's Charles Village is asking the legislature for the power to tax residential and commercial property owners to pay for private security services.

The proposal for a "community benefits district" is the first time that a city neighborhood has asked the government to allow it to raise tax money on its own for private services such as security and sanitation.

"We're not trying to take the place of the city," said Thomas J. Shafer, the administrative partner of Whitman, Requardt and Associates, who is viewed as the father of the plan to take back the neighborhood streets and keep businesses in the area.

"The first thing you do is sign a contract with the city that they will provide a baseline of services," Mr. Shafer said. "We won't have enough money to police or clean this area. This just gives us an extra level of support that we need."

Mr. Shafer became involved in trying to improve the area around the consulting firm at St. Paul and E. 24th streets, after one of his engineers, David Gordon, 25, was shot to death during a robbery in December 1990 as he begged for his life in the company parking lot.

"That gave us the impetus to get involved," Mr. Shafer said. "It caused a lot of stress among our 300 employees, and it caused us to look around the neighborhood and ask could we remain in the city and still attract the kind of employee base we need here."

After meetings with city officials in 1991, the 25th Street Task Force was born to study community concerns and figure out a way to stem the neighborhood blight. The result was a recommendation for a South Charles Village Community Benefits District, which would be overseen by a quasi-public management authority.

That authority -- basically a community association board of directors -- would administer the private security and sanitation services, as well as programs for beautifying and marketing the area to attract new businesses.

Legislation introduced in the Maryland General Assembly would allow the city to slap a tax surcharge on both residential and commercial properties in a 32-block area -- basically an area bordered by Howard Street and Guilford Avenue between E. 20th and E. 26th Streets -- to pay for services in the special district.

"If you lose those businesses, you lose twice: You're talking about losing jobs and tax revenue," said Del. Kenneth Montague Jr., D-Baltimore, who introduced the enabling legislation Friday in the House of Delegates.

"It's not the best situation, but it's something, until the city can pay for additional services," Delegate Montague said. "Right now, I think the city and state are hamstrung with what services they can provide."

Already a portion of the affluent Guilford community in North Baltimore has hired off-duty police officers to provide neighborhood patrols -- and the interest in additional security is spreading.

Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, is expected to sponsor enabling legislation for the Charles Village plan on the Senate side of the State House. And he also is talking about introducing a bill to create a special taxing district for his own Bolton Hill neighborhood, which has already initiated a private security program paid for by residents.

"I mean in Bolton Hill they're paying $520 a year, $10 a week, (for security) and it isn't even tax deductible," Mr. Lapides said. "If it were a special benefits district, it would be included as part of the property tax, and therefore, tax deductible."

The senator said he is also weighing introduction of legislation in Annapolis that would enable neighborhood groups citywide to petition theCity Council to start programs similar to the one in South Charles Village. City officials, however, predicted that such a proposal would run into trouble.

The original draft of Delegate Montague's Charles Village bill extended the northern limit to E. 29th Street, a 15-block area. But opposition at a community meeting 2 1/2 weeks ago by residents who said they had not received adequate notice of the possible surcharge convinced city and state officials to pull back the boundary to E. 26th St.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who has been behind the plan from its inception, agreed at the meeting to shrink the boundaries, when some residents north of E. 26th Street turned confrontational with community leaders and elected officials.

"We're going back to where we have consensus and support. . . . We need to get this legislation and get it moving," Mrs. Clarke said. "I don'twant to jeopardize two years' work."

If the bill became law, the Baltimore City Council would then fix the formal boundaries and set out the powers of the management authority by ordinance.

The authority's financial plan and assessment rate then would be set and approved by the Board of Estimates, the body that controls the city's finances.

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