Charles Village district property tax upheld

Denying challenge, judge calls levy legal

July 27, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

The Charles Village Community Benefits District will be permitted to collect a supplementary property tax this year after a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that the organization's board legally approved its budget at a meeting this year.

Opponents of the district -- which imposes the tax in exchange for sanitation and security services -- argued in their lawsuit that the board did not have a quorum when it voted in April to approve its budget because, they allege, three of its members did not own property in the district.

But Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr., who earlier had denied the opponents an injunction to temporarily block the tax bills from going out, wrote in his opinion yesterday that the board had followed its bylaws, which call for a nine-member quorum, and found that the tax is legal.

"I'm very pleased that not only is it clear that the ... budget and surtax voted for by the board is OK, but that all the board members that were challenged were ruled by the judge to be eligible board members," said Jennifer Martin, the district's board president.

Created in the 1990s, the benefits district levies a $120 tax per $100,000 of assessed value of a home or business for services such as extra trash pickup.

This year's tax was subsequently approved by the city's Board of Estimates and the district's board voted a second time to ratify its decision.

Opponents of the tax, led by community activist Joan Floyd, questioned the qualifications of three board members, Richard Burnham, Eric Friedman and Michael Gervais -- specifically on a provision that requires them to own property in the district. Matricciani ruled that at least one of the members, Burnham, was a qualified member.

He wrote that the plaintiffs did not adequately prove that Friedman was not qualified to sit on the board. Floyd said she and the other plaintiffs have not decided whether to appeal the ruling.

"We believe the opinion leaves some key questions open as to the qualification of voting board members as well as to certain procedural requirements for budget approval," Floyd said of the ruling.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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