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Any Charm City Circulator cuts are next Baltimore mayor’s call

Some developers believe the Charm City Circulator has been a big factor in encouraging people to live downtown. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

The Charm City Circulator. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Friday there will be no changes to Charm City Circulator routes during her remaining time in office.

Earlier this year, the mayor said there would be cuts to the bus service unless a parking tax increase was passed to help cover a $6 million budget deficit in the program, which is budgeted for $15.6 million. But the Baltimore City Council never acted on the proposed tax increase, and the mayor said service would have to be reduced.

“Any changes to the circulator system will likely have a significant impact on the next administration’s budget. I will present the next administration with the best and most current information to allow the next mayor to make an informed decision on the circulator’s future operations,” Rawlings-Blake said. “A new service contract for the circulator is currently under review. I am confident this contract will provide efficiencies to avoid implementing the proposed worst-case-scenario service cuts.”

Rawlings-Blake’s term ends in December, and several candidates are running for the seat in the Nov. 8 general election. Those candidates include Democratic nominee Sen. Catherine Pugh; former Mayor Sheila Dixon, as a write-in candidate; Green Party nominee Joshua Harris; and Republican nominee Alan Walden.

Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for the mayor, said this decision means that any potential cuts to circulator service will not happen during the current fiscal year. The next mayor would make any decisions regarding service during the next budget process.

In order to cut the deficit and preserve some of the service, the Baltimore Department of Transportation has proposed eliminating the Green Route, which serves east Baltimore; the Banner Route, which runs from Locust Point to downtown; and shortening the Purple Route, which currently runs between Charles Village and Federal Hill.

In an attempt to prevent making service cuts Rawlings-Blake’s administration proposed raising Baltimore’s parking tax by 4 percent.

That proposal was opposed by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young because the council made an agreement with the Baltimore Parking Association Inc. in 2013, after a tax hike was approved, that it would not consider raising the parking tax until 2020.

The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, which promotes growth and business development in the traditional Central Business District, also opposed the proposed tax increase. Kirby Fowler, the partnership’s president, a staunch advocate for the circulator, argued other neighborhoods in the city benefiting from the service should pick up some of the tab.

But council members from districts who would lose service held meetings late in the summer to rally constituents to show support for the expanded service.

In her emailed statement Rawlings-Blake cited residents clamoring to keep the current level of service as a factor in her decision.

“Since announcing the proposed service cuts to the Circulator, I have heard from passionate residents who want to keep the current Charm City Circulator system intact. I am proud of the service the Charm City Circulator provides and understand the concerns of the community if service must be cut,” Rawlings-Blake said.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, one of the council members who tried to rally support, said she was optimistic members will be able to work with a new administration to demonstrate the extended routes are affordable through the fiscal year and into the future.

“I’m very pleased that we no longer have an execution date for three very valuable lines on the circulator system,” Clarke said in a telephone interview on Friday.

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