City could, should provide services that new tax gives

March 30, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

Earlier this week I was strolling up a Charles Village alley on an early morning walk.

Behind a Johns Hopkins fraternity house was a pile of ugly debris. Not far away, a rowhouse where apartments rent for nearly $450 per floor, had another heap of junk, none of it in garbage cans or bags.

I passed another spot where some unethical contractor had illegally dumped old heating pipes, chunks of asbestos and plaster.

These messes, and others like them, are the annoying urban nuisances that some city residents are willing to resolve by means of raising taxes.

Last fall, a majority of my Charles Village-Waverly neighbors approved a tax rise for increased sanitation and security measures. Now comes word that some Bolton Hill, Mount Vernon and Charles-North people would also like to pay additional charges for added sanitation and security. The up-the-tax movement is spreading.

There has been no evidence that the Charles Village-Waverly special benefits district has been a success. In fact, the bills for the additional services haven't been mailed out yet.

I get annoyed when I am asked to cough up an additional $170 a year because my home is located within one of these special benefits districts. Last year I paid $3,465 in real estate taxes. I think that's enough.

I do not buy the argument that city government does not have the means to keep neighborhoods clean and safe.

The city demonstrates it can be very effective when it sets its mind to certain aspects of neighborhood governance.

Look at the stringent enforcement of parking rules. Parking meter readers circle and recircle residential districts. Neighborhood business owners post signs on their doors warning customers about parking rules and expired meters. Let a car be parked just a few minutes after a meter has expired and it will be ticketed.

How many motorists have been ticketed because they haven't read the fine print on signs that call for streets to be free of autos one morning a week for street cleaning? I was once at a party on Sharp Street in the Otterbein section of South Baltimore. The rules said you could park there for two hours. We parked the car at 9:30 p.m. Technically, we were only supposed to stay until 11:30 p.m. We lingered to say goodbyes and were penalized. A ticket on the windshield was issued at 11:40 p.m.

Any government that can be this efficient can find a way to make its residents obey trash laws.

Part of the appeal of these special tax districts is that the money jTC derived from them is supposed to come back to the neighborhoods and be administered by them. For the past several months, my neighbors have been conducting special elections to establish a mini-bureaucracy to operate this district.

It's supposed to be small, efficient and responsive to community needs.

Good luck.

I'll remain skeptical.

What happens after a year or two when the $170 proves insufficient?

Or maybe the community board scores some successes.

Are we going to be asked to double our payment for double the safety and cleanliness?

The notion that my $170 annual extra payment will curb crime strikes me as a cruel hoax.

Will a few rent-a-cops patrolling a large geographic area outsmart some very mean criminals?

I would like to think some additional hired guns might help.

But the current wave of lawlessness through drug activity is far larger than Waverly, Charles Village, Bolton Hill and Mount Vernon.

I cannot knock the general goals of the people who want a cleaner and safer city.

Their objectives are worthy.

But after all, Baltimore already has a government supposedly dedicated to these same ideals.

Why should we enact a charge for these services. Isn't this telling a government, "You are doing a rotten job but we're still going to cover your botched mistakes,"?

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