Balto. Co. tax system lacking, consultant says Overhaul needed to stem flight from older areas

November 06, 1997|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County will become poorer, its taxes will increase and its affluent residents will flee to other counties unless the Baltimore metropolitan area's property tax system is overhauled, consultant told a planning group last night.

Myron Orfield, a Minnesota state legislator and a consultant with the American Land Institute, said that many Beltway communities in the county are experiencing the same flight of middle-class residents as Baltimore City -- and that it is getting worse.

"Every year, Baltimore County is going to get poorer. Every year, Baltimore County's tax base is going to erode a little more," Orfield told about 100 planners and civic activists at Langsdale Library Auditorium at the University of Baltimore.

Orfield's findings -- included in a report and based on census reports, tax figures and school statistics -- were released yesterday by the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, an advocacy group concerned about the problems posed by regional conflicts in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Orfield accompanied his 20-minute talk with an array of charts showing that many communities ringing the Beltway -- including Essex, Dundalk, Towson and Catonsville -- are sharing the problems that city residents began experiencing 20 to 30 years ago.

Orfield said that household income is down in those communities and that across the county the number of children receiving federally subsidized school lunches -- considered a good barometer of poverty -- shot up from 15 percent in 1992 to 24 percent last year.

"The schools' percentage of poor kids is going to rise and rise and rise and rise," Orfield said.

He said that many middle-class parents tend to flee a jurisdiction when they perceive that its schools are deteriorating.

"When you have 25 percent or more kids in a school system on a free or reduced lunch, you have a wholesale movement away from that school district," he said.

Orfield said the solution is to enact laws that would require each jurisdiction in the metropolitan area to contribute part of any future increases in their commercial and industrial tax base to a general fund that would be shared by all jurisdictions.

Creation of such a fund would mean regional approaches to economic development and prevent the jurisdictions from competing against each other to attract industry and jobs, Orfield said.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore City Democrat who was at the session, said that such a measure may be possible if word gets out about the benefits to Baltimore County and surrounding jurisdictions.

"It is possible. It's not as gloomy as some of the rhetoric that we've heard here tonight," Rosenberg said.

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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