City Council to consider cell phone tax

Property tax break OK'd for `fallen heroes' spouses

March 23, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

A bill meant to reap millions from Baltimore's many cell phone users was introduced last night at a City Council meeting, where members also approved a tax break for a much smaller group: widows and widowers of fallen police officers, firefighters and rescue workers.

Two years after a plan to tax cell phone service died amid stiff industry opposition, the council is considering such a levy again. Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh introduced the bill, which was referred to the Taxation Committee.

Pugh said the measure was needed to help prevent reductions in city services and the elimination of more than 500 municipal jobs, as city finance officials propose in the fiscal 2005 budget.

"I can't imagine being responsible for laying off 500 city workers or going to one-day-a-week trash pickup," Pugh said, adding that the measure could raise millions, though no specific figure was offered.

The bill does not specify whether the tax would be a percentage of monthly bills or a flat fee.

Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. proposed taxing cell phones two years ago, but the plan died in committee. The city's financial strain - a $21 million deficit is projected in the current budget - might make council members more open to the tax, some said.

But Councilman Robert W. Curran said he would oppose it because the council frittered away millions with October's parking amnesty that forgave late fees on overdue tickets. "I'm not going to raise taxes on folks after these giveaways," he said.

In another measure, the council gave preliminary approval to a bill that exempts the spouses of "fallen heroes" - police, firefighters and rescuers who die in the line of duty - from city property taxes. The measure goes to a final vote next week.

The exemption applies only to city property, which must be the spouse's legal residence. The tax break does not apply to widows and widowers who remarry.

Six police spouses fit that category, officials said. Figures for firefighters and rescuers were not available last night.

Also yesterday, the council approved an urban renewal plan for an area on the west side known as Market Center. The measure gives the city authority to condemn at least 10 buildings, including a strip club at Eutaw and Lombard streets that Babe Ruth bought as a bar for his father in 1915.

John C. Murphy, a lawyer for the owners, said he will try to have the property designated a historic landmark.

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