A bill to lower Baltimore’s property tax rate by 20 cents by 2020 will be introduced Monday night before the City Council.
The legislation is a follow up to a campaign pledge made by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake last year while she ran for a full term and comes at a time when taxes and audits are under scrutiny at City Hall, where the 2013 budget season is getting underway.
The plan would be called the Targeted Homeowners Tax Credit and would affect city homeowners who are eligible for the Maryland Homestead Property Tax Credit.
The city said that 90 percent of the projected proceeds from a slots casino planned for Russell Street in southwest Baltimore would be used to pay for the reduction through the property tax credit program.
The plan calls for a reduction in annual property taxes for owner-occupied dwellings in the city. Owners of vacant homes will not be eligible for the property tax reduction, Rawlings-Blake said.
For example, a home assessed at $200,000 would receive a reduction of $40 annually in 2013, increasing to $400 by 2020 under the proposed plan.
Baltimore city homeowners pay the highest property taxes in the state at $2.268 per $100 of assessed value. The issue was a focal point of last summer’s mayoral campaign.
“Providing property tax relief for city homeowners is an important priority that will help to attract and retain families and get Baltimore growing again,” the mayor said Monday in a statement. “During this difficult economic period, it makes sense to target the City’s resources for property tax relief directly to homeowners first to have a bigger impact for families. It also makes sense to be fiscally responsible and protect funding for core services.”
City Councilman Carl Stokes said the mayor’s tax reduction legislation stops short on many fronts.
“I think it’s a decent-enough first step,” Stokes said Monday. “I don’t think it’s enough. A lot more has to be done sooner in order to make it a game changer. We need a lot of money for schools and other core issues in the city like the fixing of infrastructure and sewer and wastewater issues. We need a lot more revenue.”
Stokes said that another proposal being pushed by Rawlings-Blake to more than double the city’s bottle tax from to 5 cents a bottle from 2 cents in July 2013 offsets the plan to reduce property taxes for homeowners. That proposal is estimated to bring in $10 million, the mayor’s aides have said.
But Stokes, who called that tax hike “regressive,” said he is pushing for a more comprehensive approach to the problem of the city’s lagging finances. He has proposed legislation calling for an audit of all city agencies every two years.
He said he has demanded an audit of the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks, but the request has been ignored.
“They don’t have books,” Stokes said officials have told him.
Meanwhile, the issue of the property tax reductions is expected to bring debate at City Hall this spring.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has endorsed the legislation.
“The mayor’s plan to reduce Baltimore’s property tax rate 20 cents by 2020 represents sound and prudent policy that will offer families economic relief without having to sacrifice funding for core city services,” Young said Monday in a statement.