Budget woes don't need to be taxing for residents

This Just In...

May 21, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

EVERYONE GOT a pad and a pen? We're going to do a little math this morning with Baltimore City Councilman Kenneth Harris. He thinks the mayor ought to reconsider asking Baltimoreans to pay more in income taxes to balance the city budget. The city has the highest property tax in the state, and it has been losing population for years. We can't keep discouraging people and businesses from moving back to the city. "Increasing taxes ought to be a last resort," says Harris.

And yet, that's the mayor's plan -- a 20 percent boost in the city's income tax and, for the first time, an energy tax on nonprofit organizations -- to close the city's $21.3 million budget gap.

How do you close this gap without raising taxes?

Here's the Ken Harris plan:

1. The mayor, comptroller, City Council members, deputy mayors and agency heads take a 10 percent cut in salary. Savings: about $500,000.

2. The state, through the comptroller's office, gives the city a lump-sum payment for those local income taxes that were mistakenly sent to Anne Arundel County. Estimated total: $9.3 million. (There have been noises from City Hall about spending this windfall on one-time capital projects and maybe a summer jobs program but, in light of the city's financial problems, that makes zero sense.)

3. Verizon -- that's the name of the phone company now -- coughs up the local taxes it failed to collect in Baltimore. Estimated total: $2.2 million.

4. City Comptroller Joan Pratt offers an amnesty program for unpaid city property taxes and collects another $3 million.

The way I do the math, that's about $15 million -- more than two-thirds of the way toward closing the budget gap.

Harris also proposes raising the parking tax (more of a "commuter tax" than one just aimed at city residents) to 3 percent to raise another $2.5 million.

So -- I'm using all my fingers now -- that's $17.5 million.

"We can easily make up another $3.5 million through a furlough day or two for all city employees," Harris says. "That way, no one loses his or her job, and no city services are reduced. We can't tax people out of the city."

Harris is a young guy from Northeast Baltimore, like the mayor, and he says he cares about the city's future, like the mayor. Here's hoping someone, like the mayor, listens to him.

Tune in, hon

If you crave a good dose of the Bawlmer accent -- the real, Hon-spun thing -- get up early on a Sunday morning and tune into the radio flea market on WCBM, 680 AM. (It comes on right after the St. Jude Novena.) Jay Harris, his partner and their callers speak in the hometown tongue. Listen for a couple of minutes, and you know you're in the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Basin. A-kay?

Speaking of things Baltimorean, it's time to add something important to shopping lists: peppermint sticks and fresh lemons.

General Mills has put out a new product called Harmony, "a low-fat nutritional cereal for women." I tried it, and now I'm pretty much the lass in the old Irish Spring commercial: "I like it, too."

But there's nothing like a bowl of Froot Loops to get me in touch with my inner boy.

What you want to do is go to the Herb Festival this weekend in Leakin Park, and you want to follow Turkey Joe Trabert's advice: "Bring a little wagon -- a Red Flyer, if you've got one -- a folding chair, a beverage, the morning newspaper, and sit there and watch all the aging hippies go by."

I like the Double T Diners pretty much, but tell me something: Is the dinner menu getting a little pricey, or what?

The squirrel baffle on my hanging bird feeder is twice as effective when I spray Pam all over it. I knew I'd find a use for Pam one day.

Road to confusion

Been in this town 25 years, and I still suffer from Belair Road-Harford Road confusion. If you don't live on or near one of them -- and if you're a guy too stubborn to ask directions or refresh your memory by looking up an address in the phone book -- you can waste valuable minutes of happy hour driving up Harford Road in search of a Belair Road bar.

Been there, done that. I looked for La Hacienda on Harford Road and Jerry D's on Belair Road.

I still have it in my head that Dead Freddie's is on Belair Road, and almost every time I head for Woodlea Bakery I go to Harford Road first.

I'm just curious: Anybody else have this problem?

The only thing I'm certain of is Mastellone's, the Italian deli, and Angelina's, the Irish-Italian place. They're both on -- he said, as sweat glistened across his brow -- Harford Road.

A close call

Friday's Hellular Phone Story, about a teen-ager who gabbed on her cell phone for nearly 90 minutes during a Mother's Day dinner in a Carroll County crab house, prompted TJI reader Barbara Woodey to counter with a "good" cell phone story from the same day. The columnist oversight committee voted to allow it -- just this once.

Woodey and her husband Joel planned to meet their son Bruce for Mother's Day brunch at Michael's in Timonium at 12:30. Mom and Dad got there early.

Sonny Boy didn't. When it got to be 12:50, mom used her cell phone to leave a message on her son's cell phone. Sonny Boy called back a couple of minutes later -- from somewhere inside the restaurant.

"What's up, Mom?" he asked.`Where are you?" asked mom.

"The restaurant," he said.



"Where in Michael's?"

"Near the section where we were last year."

"How long have you been here?"

"Since 12:30," Sonny Boy said, "and I was getting worried about you."

The restaurant has two entrances, and it was a busy day and apparently Sonny Boy didn't know -- do I have to spell this out for you?

"If it were not for our cell phones," Barbara Woodey says, "we might still be sitting there, waiting."

That concludes today's "good" cell phone story. I won't let it happen again.

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