Taxpayer group upset at mayor's Harborview bill

February 24, 1994|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

Members of a Baltimore taxpayers group yesterday expressed outrage and disappointment at Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's quiet proposal to help the owners of the troubled HarborView development by offering tax credits to buyers of condominiums there.

They were particularly upset because the Schmoke administration, as recently as Friday, had opposed a bill they favor that would offer similar sliding-scale credits for buyers of new homes citywide.

The mayor abruptly decided to support the second measure this week in the face of legislative opposition to the HarborView bill.

"We thought it was OK to include HarborView, but to target just HarborView, we thought was just rotten," said David B. Rudow, a founder of the Baltimore City Homeowners Coalition for Fair Property Taxes.

"This type of end-run only creates distrust and hostility," Mr. Rudow said. "I think it's a terrible thing to do, and we don't like the way it was done."

Mr. Schmoke asked the city's delegation to the General Assembly to sponsor the bill for HarborView earlier this month. He backed away from the measure after unreceptive city senators and delegates questioned the special-interest legislation at a meeting Monday night.

The mayor then did an about-face, said he would withdraw his HarborView bill and threw his support behind the legislation favored by the taxpayers group in an effort to attract more middle-class homeowners to the city.

"We were outraged about it when we read about 'the stealth bill,' whatever the motives. But we're satisfied now," said Daniel J. Loden, president of the taxpayers group.

The citywide bill was sponsored by Del. James W. Campbell, a Baltimore Democrat, who worked with the taxpayers group to develop incentives for home-buying in the city.

Under the Campbell bill, anyone who bought and lived in a new house would pay 50 percent of the property tax the first year, 60 percent the second year, 70 percent the third year, 80 percent the fourth year and 90 percent in the fifth.

Mr. Campbell, citing state Department of Planning figures, said that on average, about 200 houses are built in the city each year.

If the legislature approves the enabling legislation, it would still need Baltimore City Council approval.

Mr. Schmoke's bill would have offered similar credits for condo buyers at HarborView, where sales have stalled. That would have been a huge incentive, given the cost of the condo units -- $161,000 to $1.7 million -- and the city's tax rate of $5.90 per $100 of assessed value.

Henry W. Bogdan, the mayor's chief lobbyist in Annapolis, said yesterday that while the administration supports the Campbell bill, officials believe it should be amended to include a limit on the number of years the program would be offered and to require a study of its effectiveness.

George A. Nilson, vice president of the taxpayers group, said, "I'm waiting to learn more about the amendments, to see if they're going to support a true citywide incentive bill -- or whether it is really just another way to do the same thing that the mayor's bill was going to do flagrantly."

Sen. John A. Pica Jr., the Democrat who heads the city Senate delegation, echoed those comments, saying he thought the Campbell bill could be killed because it is now tainted -- in the wake of the brouhaha over the HarborView bill -- by the mayor's support.

"It's going to be guilty by association," Mr. Pica said.

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