Neighbors split over tax boost

October 01, 1994|By Joel Obermayer | Joel Obermayer,Sun Staff Writer

Because of an editing error, an article in Saturday's paper incorrectly stated the percentage of votes required for a special tax referendum to pass in Charles Village. The measure requires an affirmative vote from 58 percent of all ballots that are returned. Registered voters and property owners in the district are eligible to vote.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

Michael Foster will vote this month to raise his property taxes, and he hopes other Charles Village residents will do the same.

"Even if we can make it a little bit better, for such a small investment I'm willing to go for it," said the resident of the 2800 block of St. Paul St., who owns a few small apartment buildings in the area. "If it costs another $100 [a year] to make things safer here, it deserves a shot."


In a neighborhood referendum that will start next week, Mr. Foster and other Charles Village voters will decide whether their property taxes will rise an average of $50 to $99 a year per household, the money to be used to hire a private security force and more people to help pick up trash.

But the idea of a property tax increase draws skeptical looks from some residents, particularly in the rougher areas of Charles Village in the south and southeast.

In the 2300 block of Guilford Ave., such talk has Garry Booker shaking his head.

"The younger people down here are wild and more dangerous than up north. Rent-a-cops won't do anything down here except get hurt," said the 40-year resident. "It's a little naive to think they are going to come down and do all that."

The proposed measure would impose a 30-cent surtax on top of the city's tax rate of $5.85 per $100 of assessed value. For the measure to pass, 58 percent of the registered voters in the

district must vote yes.

Organizers say this kind of effort must succeed if city neighborhoods are to retain middle-class residents who have the option of moving to the suburbs. The program -- called the Charles Village Community Benefits District -- is based on community involvement rather than money spent, they say. But a small, vocal group has been handing out hundreds of fliers in opposition.

The impetus for the taxing district was born in 1990 after a 25-year-old employee of an engineering and architecture firm was shot to death at St. Paul and East 24th streets. Merchants and community organizations joined in pushing for a special taxing district with extra security.

Modeled after a venture in downtown Baltimore, the special tax district would include Charles Village, South Charles Village and a small part of Waverly.

The proposed district includes 10,000 residents -- 38 percent black, 52 percent white and 8 percent Asian.

The plan is to use $400,000 raised from the tax, more than $100,000 donated by the Johns Hopkins University and money raised from other sources to finance a 12-person private security force, three people to deal with sanitation issues and a small economic development office. The district employees would be able to train residents in such things as starting a crime watch and eradicating rats.

City officials look at Charles Village as a test of the special taxing district concept. Five other such districts might be created eventually, and several neighborhoods, including Bolton Hill and Roland Park, have expressed interest.

The city gave the Greater Homewood Community Corp. $30,000 to educate residents about the plan. The group has organized dozens of block meetings, one in virtually every block in Charles Village.

At one such meeting Wednesday night, Ed Hargadon, a member of the board that is guiding the process, talked to 25 people in a resident's living room in the 2700 block of St. Paul St.

"This is not the same system you are used to," he said. "One hundred percent of that money comes back here, and we will decide how to use it."

Most of the group applauded, but Mr. Hargadon's presentation drew a few disapproving comments.

Bill O'Connor said organizers eventually would be back for a larger tax increase. The program's effect would be "so minuscule as to represent at best a symbol," he said.

Evelyn Cannon, 44, a lawyer, responded that anything that helps is worth trying.

"If nothing matters, I can just go into my house, lock the door and stay inside. And I'm not prepared to do that," she said.

Earlier that afternoon, people in the 2300 block of Guilford Ave. also appeared to be willing to try something new.

Gracie A. Moore, who lives with her children, Cornelius, 12, and Phillip, 7, said the benefits district sounded like a good idea. "I wouldn't mind paying extra, because I have kids and their safety means a lot to me," she said.

Reducing crime in her part of the neighborhood will be more difficult than it will be farther north, she said. There had been a shooting in her block the night before.

Across the street, Lorraine Shelton, 73, a retired Bethlehem Steel worker, said he can't afford higher property taxes and doesn't think the program will do much.

If the proposal passes, "I bet you there are more [safety patrols] up north than there will be down here," he said.

Doubts are only natural, said Michael Howard, chairman of the board that has been organizing the special election.

"It's like anything else. It is change, and there are going to be some skeptics," he said. "This is not a magic wand. We are just trying to begin to stabilize the community."

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