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Rather than a recurring charge on such items as bike rack fees, businesses could pay a higher one-time registration charge under Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s proposal. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Baltimore proposes changes to business fees

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration announced plans to eliminate or reduce some fees the city charges businesses.

Baltimore’s spending board is set to consider the revisions to the “minor privilege schedule” on Wednesday morning. The city says the goal is to ultimately reduce charges to businesses for encroachments on the public right away, such as placing a bike rack in front of a store.

“This is one of those initiatives I really think is directed at small business. We’ve been hearing for years, I know I heard it when I was on the [city] council, for years from small-business owners that just didn’t understand the minor privilege program, didn’t understand why they were being billed for certain things,” Baltimore Development Corp. President William Cole said.

Under the proposal, rather than a recurring annual bill, businesses would be charged a slightly higher one-time registration fee for listed items. The change would apply immediately for items such as bicycle racks, security cameras and ramps that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Fees for items such as awnings, electric signs and show windows are also being shifted from an annual charge to a one-time registration fee, but those changes won’t go into effect until July 1.

“After that people with current minor privileges won’t have to pay anymore and in the future it will be just a one-time fee. So, those businesses are going to save a lot of money over the long term,” Department of General Services Director Steve Sharkey said.

Changes to the minor privilege schedule also include removing items like hot dog carts, Christmas trees and piers and bulk heads from the fee list.

By reducing the fees charged the city is expected to lose $43,000 in the current fiscal year and $812,000 in the next fiscal year as a result.

The fee reduction came about after a work group with representatives from the city council, mayor’s office and business associations examined the proposal for several months.

“The mayor wants to make a decision and get them right, one time. I think that she wanted to make sure that we really thought this through,” Sharkey said.

The Baltimore City Council approved a bill last year aimed at reforming the fees the city charges. However, Rawlings-Blake used her first veto on that legislation, saying she felt it was unnecessary because the Department of General Services was already studying ways to reform the fees.

About Adam Bednar

Adam Bednar covers real estate and development for The Daily Record.