Schmoke's residency order may be what doctor ordered

Baltimore Glimpses

June 29, 1993|By GILBERT SANDLER

WHEN Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke issued an executive order requiring future city employees to live in the city, there was quite a negative reaction from the suburbs. Most of it came from suburbanites who saw the mayor's action as "separatist" and who feared an escalation of hostilities. Suburban jurisdictions might make good on long-standing threats to impose payroll taxes on outsiders working in their plants and offices, for example, and then the city could impose a payroll tax of its own, and then . . . (Some of the reaction might be from county people who want to work in the city, although Mr. Schmoke defused some of the outrage by "grandfathering" those who are currently employed.)

In fact, the tussle between the city and its neighbors is a long-standing one, extending deep into history. Only since the suburbanization of the region after World War II has Baltimore City been the disadvantaged party. Until that time, Baltimore was the good-looking sister who got all the breaks. Baltimore schools were the envy of the state, and so were its cultural institutions. There was no Hunt Valley to threaten the city's industries. McCormick & Co. lent its presence (and its aroma) to the Inner Harbor; now its headquarters are in Sparks!

Sherry H. Olson, in her estimable history of the city in 1980, documented the often-stormy relationship. She related how Baltimore had to buy land in Baltimore County for its water and parks systems; how the city had to buy, rebuild and subsidize the Long Bridge from Ferry Bar into Anne Arundel County to get rid of the toll on goods coming to the city. County school systems complained that the state school finance formula put them at a disadvantage. Now it's just the other way around.

But maybe there is a silver lining to the current debate. Those in the county who are arguing so vociferously against the separatist point of view are, by virtue of their noise and numbers and residence, strengthening the case for doing away with the separatism they find so unacceptable. They are the very people the debate has been waiting to hear from. Mr. Schmoke has ZTC forced them, at long last, to come over to the side of regional thinking.

People on both sides of the city-county borders may now begin to speak the same language. All this hullabaloo from countians amounts to their recognition that the city should not be cutting off the county, nor vice versa. No one should be cutting off anyone. This happy state of affairs will come about only when there is neither "city" nor "county," but "region."

The separatist point of view is an idea whose time has passed. Duplication of services is costly and inefficient. Building the wall around the city higher, from either side, is now prohibitively costly. The region is big enough, prosperous enough, for business and industry to thrive both within and outside the city. Rapid transit and such arteries as I-83 and I-395 make it convenient for suburbanites to visit Baltimore City cultural institutions, which were established when the city dominated and now make it a vibrant place to visit.

Reducing crime (which increasingly does not respect city-county boundaries) and efficiently managing civic services -- education, fire-fighting, sanitation -- will be fully achieved when they are considered regional problems that can only be addressed regionally.

Mayor Schmoke's order turned out to be more than one that created residential requirements for city workers. In ordering a city-county dividing line for city employees, the mayor has raised a much larger point: Should there be a border at all?

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