Baltimore's Crisis of Confidence

February 28, 1994

The do-or-die urgency among proponents of a special taxing district for Charles Village and vicinity underlines the crisis of confidence that exists in Baltimore City. After years of murder and mayhem, Baltimoreans are desperate for a sense of security. Many feel the municipal government no longer can provide sufficient policing and sanitation services and think a private auxiliary effort is needed.

Residents in two wealthy communities have hired additional security on a voluntary basis; several others are considering it. The proposed Charles Village-centered district is the first one where residential and commercial property owners would be mandated by law to pay extra taxes to an authority in charge of beefed-up protection, sanitation and recreation services.

"The neighborhood is in trouble," argues Thomas J. Shafer, a Charles Village businessman. "Our community really needs a signal from the legislature and the city that they really care."

When an enabling bill was first proposed in Annapolis a year ago, we empathized with its proponents but thought the measure was not the right approach to improve public safety. The new proposals have done nothing to change our view.

A mandatory special tax district might temporarily enhance some residents' sense of security but it would do little to address the complicated problems of crime and violence in Baltimore City. A linkage of adequate public services to a neighborhood's ability to pay would further erode the city's sense of communality in fighting core problems.

House Bill 991 underscores this danger. Arbitrarily, it creates borders for a racially and economically diverse service district but specifically excludes three of its major institutions -- the Johns Hopkins University, Union Memorial Hospital and Baltimore Museum of Art -- from any obligation of participation or support.

Why? Presumably because they already have their security forces. Is this indeed what we want to happen on a citywide basis -- that a protected special district or an institution would be exempted from the full responsibility of combating crime among its next-door neighbors?

The crisis of confidence among Baltimoreans today is so real and serious that unless it can be alleviated this city's viability may well be endangered. However, special tax districts in residential-commercial areas are not the answer. Fear and desperation can be removed only through an effective policing plan that gives hope to all of Baltimore. This is what we ask of Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and of all public officials.

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