$1-a-month increase in parking tax offered by city, opposed by business

Administrative reforms also set to raise revenue

November 08, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

The O'Malley administration signaled a willingness yesterday to raise the city's parking tax for the first time in five years, as part of a broad effort to reform how the levy is collected.

The change being considered is less than a 15.4 percent increase the City Council shelved in June, after Mayor Martin O'Malley said he would not support it as proposed. But business groups remain opposed, saying any increase could help steer companies to the suburbs.

Under a plan offered by the Baltimore City Parking Authority, the tax on monthly parking contracts would rise by $1 a month, to $14. The tax would rise again in 2003, to $15, under the proposal heard yesterday by the Council's Taxation Committee.

"I think a modest increase of $1 -- the first increase since 1996 -- is not an unreasonable one," said Deputy Mayor Laurie B. Schwartz. A downtown parking space can cost $150 to $225 a month.

The $1-per-month tax increase, along with a change in the way the tax is computed for tourists and others who park hourly, would yield $1 million more per year to the city, officials say. That would rise to $1.4 million in 2003.

The parking tax brings in about $11 million per year.

Schwartz said the parking authority's eight-point proposal also would improve tax receipts by tightening licensing rules and stepping up audits.

City officials say some parking operators are apparently ignoring the tax. Since 1997, even though several garages have opened, annual parking tax revenue has been flat.

"Not all operators who should be paying taxes are," Schwartz said. "It's an honor system."

The parking authority's recommendations to amend the stalled tax bill grew out of a work group that met during the summer.

The recommendations call for a city license to be required for all parking facilities, and for better auditing to ensure licensees pay what they owe. Hourly parking would be taxed at a rate of 12.5 percent, rather than at 60 cents a day.

Business groups favor procedural changes but not higher taxes. Any increase would have a "negative connotation," said Donald C. Fry, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Michele L. Whelley, president of the Downtown Partnership, said the administrative changes should be the first step.

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