Taxpayers and homeless disagree on priorities

June 08, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Representatives of taxpayer and business groups last night called on the Baltimore City Council to tax and spend less. But advocates for the homeless, a nonprofit insurance cooperative and union members asked the council to do more.

Daniel J. Loden, president of the Baltimore City Homeowners' Coalition for Fair Property Taxes, called for an across-the-board 1 percent spending cut at the council's Taxpayers' Night on the proposed $2 billion budget for fiscal 1994. Such a cut, he said, would generate enough savings to pay for an additional 120 police officers and cut the property tax rate by 5 cents.

"We have seen enough fat in the city budget that we have this slogan -- 'Shave and Save,' " he said.

His call was echoed by spokesmen for the Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

Fletcher R. Hall, executive vice president of the real estate group, told council members that home sales in Baltimore lagged significantly behind those in surrounding suburban jurisdictions because the city property tax rate of $5.90 per $100 of assessed value is far higher than rates anywhere else.

"I appear before you to urge in the strongest possible terms the reduction of the city property tax rate," hesaid.

But Jeff Singer, spokesman for City Advocates in Solidarity with the Homeless, was one of several homeless advocates to outline what they said were unmet needs for the homeless, including more emergency shelters and detoxification facilities.

"Spending money is not a bad thing when it meets people's needs," he said.

Similarly, A. Robert Kaufman, head of the City Wide Insurance Coalition, urged that the council delay approving the proposed budget until Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke agreed to provide an additional $60,000 for research needed to set up a nonprofit auto insurance cooperative. That group could save city residents $275 per car over what private insurance companies charge, he said.

Before Taxpayers' Night, about 50 members of the City Union of Baltimore rallied outside City Hall to protest the city's offer of a 1 percent raise. Cheryl D. Glenn, president of the union representing some 7,000 municipal clerical and technical workers, said CUB wanted a raise of about 3.5 percent. City workers have not had a raise in nearly three years.

"They're asking us for quality work, but they're not giving quality money," said Leon Bailey, a city housing inspector.

The council is considering the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget was approved last month by the Board of Estimates. The council may only cut spending.

Also, the council is preparing to take up Mr. Schmoke's proposal to increase the city's piggyback income tax rate -- a percentage of the state income tax -- from 50 percent to 52 percent to raise $4 million to pay for 120 additional police officers. A hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday.

Yesterday, the co-chair of the City Council budget committee pressed his proposal that $4.5 million of the $15.6 million earmarked in the proposed budget for renovation of the Police Department headquarters be used to put more foot patrol officers on the streets.

"Our first priority should be in adding manpower to the police force -- not in capital projects and not in raising taxes," Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, said in a letter to the Board of Estimates.

Last night, Councilman Martin O'Malley, D-3rd, introduced a resolution calling on the city comptroller to conduct a full-scale audit of the Police Department because of what he termed "accelerated" late year spending.

In other action, a bill was introduced in the council to ban liquor advertising on billboards throughout the city. The bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, will not be taken up until September.

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