The Best Security Money Can Buy?

October 14, 1994

Charles Village is in the throes of controversy and creative tension. Property owners in that neighborhood, south of Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, are voting on a proposal that, if approved, would establish a management authority to improve the area's security, sanitation and promotion. Few are neutral about the proposal that would

impose an extra levy on all property owners, residential and commercial.

The enabling state legislation, passed earlier this year, envisioned a half-dozen communities where such tax and benefits districts would be tried over three years. Charles Village's 65 square blocks would be the first test. "Why not try it and see whether it works," says Edward Hargadon, president of the Charles Village Civic Association.

Some neighbors disagree. The proposal "is dividing the Charles Village community and threatens to sever Charles Village from the rest of Baltimore," Grenville B. Whitman argues.

Both have a point. Early on, when the Charles Village proposal was before the General Assembly, we fought it. Our position was based on a fear that special taxing districts in residential areas would lead to a harmful Balkanization of the city.

However, now that the legislative battles are over, this is a matter for Charles Villagers themselves to decide, as they are doing in mail ballots due to be returned by Nov. 15. If the majority of property owners want to be saddled with an extra tax in hopes of community-coordinated improvements, so be it.

The bottom-line question is whether Charles Villagers are voting to solve the same problem.

The whole tax and benefits district movement seems to have sprung out of residents' frustrations with various municipal bureaucracies. The community is split among three police districts, which cannot communicate by radio and often seem to pass the buck. Repeated complaints to the housing and sanitation agencies also do not bring the desired results.

If the main problem is bureaucratic indifference, then the Charles Village tax and benefits district proposal will not cure it. By paying an extra tax, residents will only create another -- and presumably friendlier -- layer of bureaucracy to act as a go-between.

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