Benefiting Charles Village Special district: First year has brought residents closer, but some pessimism remains.

July 23, 1996

IT'S CLEANER AND SAFER, but not as clean and safe as residents want it to be. That may be the best assessment of the Charles Village special benefits district a year after it was created. The additional property tax residents voted to impose on themselves has been used to hire seven full-time security guards and three sanitation workers to supplement services provided by the city. The extra workers are getting good reviews, but they can't solve every crime and grime problem in the community.

Nearly half of the district's first-year budget of $435,000 went to pay for the additional security. But the police department believes that investment has paid off. Robberies are down 21 percent, from 145 to 114; commercial burglaries down 20 percent, from 60 to 48; larcenies down 13 percent, from 640 to 556; and auto thefts down 24 percent, from 119 to 91. Home burglaries increased a slight 3 percent, to 142 from 138. The number of murders increased to four from two, and rapes rose to six from two.

Hiring more security guards may further reduce the crime statistics, but a lot of the improvement being seen now is due to a new attitude among Charles Village residents, not the rent-a-cops they employ. With 350 volunteers and 105 block captains, people are paying more attention to what goes on in their community. They're calling the police when they see a crime. That and the security guards' presence have made drug dealers lower their profile.

District Director Tracy Durkin says next year's budget should be nearly $500,000, even though reduced tax assessments will lower collections. The additional funds will come from donations by individuals, corporations and foundations. Part of that money will be used to hire an economic development director, who will work with businesses such as Eddie's market and the Golden Star restaurant, which have been in Charles Village for years but need help figuring out what they should do to survive.

It's a shame that communities in a city with the highest property taxes in the state have to shell out extra money for services that the city should but has not been able to provide. And yet the Charles Village special benefits district appears to be working. People feel better about where they live. Not everyone is happy with the program, but it should improve as it matures.

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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