Bill aims to boost commercial areas

January 27, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Baltimore County's leaders want to offer a tax carrot to business owners in older commercial areas but don't want them to gobble a big hole in the county treasury in the process.

The issue illustrates the difficulty of dealing with two of the county's biggest problems, a slowing of tax revenue growth and growing urban decay. The bill under consideration by the County Council is an attempt to walk a tightrope between the two.

The idea is to offer business owners who improve their properties temporary immunity from higher property taxes that would result from the work. The bill provides for no tax increase the first year and would phase in the increase over the next four years.

Sponsored by Pikesville Councilman Melvin G. Mintz, a 2nd District Democrat, with co-sponsors Vincent J. Gardina, a 5th District Democrat, and Berchie Lee Manley, a 1st District Republican, the bill originally would have applied only in 10 designated revitalization areas -- mainly old commercial centers eclipsed over the years by shopping malls: Catonsville, Arbutus, Woodlawn, Liberty Road, Pikesville, Towson, Parkville, Overlea, Essex and Dundalk.

But County Executive Roger B. Hayden was worried about the financial impact of including Towson, where several multimillion-dollar projects have been built in recent years. He also worried about excluding other, smaller areas.

The bill, which was delayed and rewritten, will go before the council at its work session next week. A final vote is scheduled for Feb. 7.

In the latest version, Towson has been dropped from the list of tax-break areas, and eligibility has been extended to other old commercial crossroads, such as Oakleigh Road and Taylor Avenue.

To qualify, an area would need at least 25 commercial properties, a formal business association and a revitalization program. Improvements must cost at least $50,000 and increase a property's value by at least $10,000 to qualify.

The revised bill also excludes properties that belong to utility companies or railroads.

No one knows how much the program would cost the county in uncollected property taxes. After laying off nearly 300 county workers last year, and after three years of no general raises for county employees, Mr. Hayden isn't looking for ways to reduce revenue.

Pat Roddy, Mr. Hayden's lobbyist, wants the council to add a sunset provision that would eliminate the incentive after two years without further legislation.

That, Mr. Roddy said, would give the county a chance to see how the program works and how much it might cost before making it permanent.

Mr. Roddy said the Hayden administration is most interested in the bill as a potential catalyst for getting unorganized, older business areas together to improve their communities and prevent urban blight.

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