Extra benefits tax for Charles Village may not cure troubles

October 03, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

Wait a minute. The ink is still wet on the check I wrote for $3,465 for municipal property taxes due Sept. 30. Do I really want to come up with another $171?

That additional levy is being asked of the people who already pay property taxes in the proposed Charles Village Community Benefits District.

It's a sad day for Baltimore when some of its residents are lobbying for more taxes to be spent to make their neighborhood safer and cleaner. Aren't we saying to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the City Council that you've failed us so badly we need extraordinary corrective help? Regular city police and sanitation services are not enough. Has the city gotten that rough?

I guess the special taxing district will impart the illusion that neighborhoods are fighting back and doing something to keep themselves clean and safe. That sentiment is difficult to argue against. Certainly a number of my ardent neighbors have worked diligently in behalf of the separate tax district. Their hearts are committed to the cause.

It seemed that every other day last week a neighbor was dropping off some literature at my front door. When you talk at length to the proponents of the tax, they sing its praises. But when you really ask hard questions like how is the estimated $400,000 to $500,000 going to help more than 65 square blocks, 65 square blocks that need policing 24 hours a day, the answers are less concrete. I've heard the rationale stated: "Well, this tax may be uncertain but at least we're trying to do something positive."

I think I'd be more in a mood to write the check for $171 (based on my home's assessment) if I didn't so often observe the foot patrolman assigned to this neighborhood spend an inordinate amount of time chatting with the customers at the checkout lanes of the local supermarket. He's great for public relations but I'm not sure he does too much for the woman who is being mugged or the resident whose Nissan is being stolen.

I also think I'd be more in the mood to shell out money if this were part of a citywide effort to make all of Baltimore more attractive to home owners in every neighborhood. Encouraging and retaining all working people to live in Baltimore ought to be a major municipal goal. It's great to build an Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a Columbus Center and expand the convention business, but what about the people trying to live in Baltimore?

I've grown to resent this push for the tourist dollar. Why should the Inner Harbor be clipped, groomed, policed and swept while the rest of us are too afraid to walk to a store after dark for an ice cream cone?

The taxing district is supposed to be a three-year trial. But what happens if it is partially successful? Say the extra security does reduce some crime. Will the proponents come back and argue, "Let's finish the job right."? I see my $171 ultimately becoming $271 a year to do a better job.

Over the years, I have observed families pack up and move out of Charles Village. All too often, their reason for going away was the sorry state of public education in Baltimore. Indeed, they often applauded the tireless efforts of some parents to improve the schools.

But on balance, the people who quit the neighborhood still lacked confidence in the education system.

By definition, the tax district's funds are not supposed to address the problems in our public schools' classrooms.

The other reason that I've watched people move out of Charles Village is financial -- upward mobility. They made more money and moved to fancier addresses. This trend is nothing new. It's been going on for decades. Charles Village has long been a jumping off point for people on their way up the economic ladder. Many people have happy memories of their days spent in this neighborhood, but they leave.

My final objection is picky. The literature in favor of the benefit district says registered Charles Village voters and property owners will receive a ballot "in the mail by Oct. 1."

That day came and went. I got no such ballot. Nor did the neighbors I spoke with. That makes me wonder if the same thing will happen to the promised police and sanitation improvement if the tax district referendum is approved.

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