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The property tax shuffle

One of the top questions in this year’s mayoral race is how to lower the city’s residential property tax rate, the highest in Maryland at $2.268 per $100 of assessed value.

All of the candidates have a plan.

And those plans are repeatedly bashed on the campaign trail by the candidates in a round robin game that resembles something out of the grade-school playground.

It’s enough to make the average voter want to cringe in confusion. Most say they want the tax rate lowered so they can afford to remain in Baltimore, but it’s hard to figure out which plan is best without wiping out basic services.

Enter the Maryland Public Policy Institute.

On Sept. 7, the nonprofit group is holding a free public forum on lowering the property tax rate from 1:30 to 3: 30 p.m. at the tony Center Club at 100 Light St.

All candidates will be there to explain their plan and debate the issue. Except for one: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

And her upcoming absence has created quite a stir.

The mayor’s rep Kieana Page said Rawlings-Blake is busy and cannot attend. So she’s sending in a “surrogate” which happens to be her spokesman, Ryan O’Doherty.

It’s not even a centerpiece issue anyway, Page said.

“With some voters, yes, it is, but usually the biggest issue we hear about are crime and jobs and public education,” Page explained on Monday. “Everybody agrees that it should be reduced, but it’s not the first thing you usually hear from voters.”

The mayor’s main challengers, Joseph T. “Jody” Landers III, Otis Rolley, Catherine Pugh and Frank M. Conaway Sr., have pledged to reduce the city’s property tax rate by up to one third over the next four- to-eight years.

Rawlings-Blake introduced a plan this summer that would reduce it by 9 percent over nine years using revenues from a slots parlor (yet to be even awarded to an operator).

Her refusal to show up at the forum rattled the policy institute’s president, Christopher Summers, who will moderate the forum while Stephen J.K. Walters, an economics professor at Loyola University, asks questions.

“This is a profiles in courage moment,” Summers said of the mayor shunning his event. “It is no secret that for so long this one issue in the city was the root cause of the poor economics of the city. It’s unfortunate the mayor running for election is going to miss out on an opportunity to address this issue.”