Group remains anti-tax

Taxpayers Night marks 10th year of activism for homeowners' coalition

April 20, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

When some Baltimore residents take to the War Memorial Building floor this evening to comment on next year's proposed city budget, the Taxpayers Night event will mark the 10th anniversary of the Baltimore Homeowners' Coalition.

The homeowners' group of about 1,000 members formed in 1989 to stem the city's escalating tax rate. Members have watched the city property tax rate drop from $6 per $100 of assessed value to $5.82.

Although the drop might not be viewed as dramatic, coalition organizers estimate that they have saved Baltimore property owners about $140 million by harping on city leaders to reduce spending and streamline city services.

"The rate would have gone from $6 to $6.20," said attorney David B. Rudow, who serves as the group's executive vice president. "It's gone to $5.82, and that is a significant difference."

Critics have labeled the homeowners' group a vocal minority of affluent Roland Park and Guilford property owners solely interested in reducing their tax bills. Group leaders, however, contend that cuts in the city tax rate help all local property owners. Since forming, the group has recruited members from 220 city organizations, they say.

"There is no difference on the impact of a property tax whether it is a low-income homeowner or a high-income homeowner," Rudow said.

Much like previous years, the homeowners group will have much to talk about tonight, as the city moves one year closer to a projected budget deficit. In the final budget of his 12-year tenure, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke hopes to start the elimination of 600 city positions during the next 18 months to avoid a budget shortfall.

Municipal finances continue to be sapped because of population losses, leaving the city struggling to maintain basic services, such as trash collection and housing inspections. The homeowners' group has been a proponent of restructuring the delivery of city services by forcing city workers to bid competitively with private companies.

The policy, known as "competitive re-engineering," has been credited with helping cities such as Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Atlanta rebound financially. City union leaders oppose the move, suggesting it would result in large job layoffs.

Most of the 600 job cuts envisioned by Schmoke would occur through attrition, according to city budget leaders. The City Council will soon begin holding hearings on the budget, which must be approved by July 1.

Among suggestions the homeowners' coalition intends to make tonight is for the city to sell its surplus and excess real estate. The group also is pushing to reduce the city property tax by increasing the piggyback income tax paid to the state.

Fifty percent of income taxes paid to the state from Baltimore residents is returned to city government.

Taxpayers Night will begin at 7 o'clock in the War Memorial Building at Fayette and Gay streets.

Pub Date: 4/20/99

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