Regarding your recent editorial, “Cutting Baltimore’s property tax rate: the devil is in the details” (July 12), I initially was skeptical of Renew Baltimore’s proposals, but I’ve come around.
Baltimore’s tax base growth and homeownership rates are very low relative to other comparable cities. Our property system is regressive and unfair. Low income homeowners pay a disproportionate share of their income for property taxes for homes that often don’t appreciate in value to pass on to the next generation.
For years, the city has conducted a tax lien sale that allows investors to take control of homes with unpaid property taxes, in some cases causing homeowners to lose their homes. Where is the equity in that? Six years is enough time to revise our tax system and reposition the city for growth. It’s time for Renew Baltimore’s plan.
— Mary Miller, Baltimore
My understanding of strategic fiscal plans has always been that they’re a three- to five- year process. So six years seems to be a decent amount of time to implement this plan.
Reducing property taxes in Baltimore in essence reduces costs in many other areas of city life. For example, property owners can charge less to renters, and retail stores — including food markets — can also be more competitive with their competition in the county. If they pay less in property taxes those fixed savings can be shared with customers.
Local politicians in Charm City have known for decades the importance of competitive property taxes. If you think I’m wrong, then why do our leaders continue to give property tax breaks to new investors? Why? Because they know without a competitive tax rate it’s likely the developers will go elsewhere.
And thus, going elsewhere is what so many potential city property buyers do — young and old.
With competitive property taxation values, city property values will increase and with the increase in value, the property tax totals will increase. Eventually the overall population in the city will increase allowing the city to keep its property tax coffers level — i.e. more property owners paying less taxes can conceivably equal today’s lesser population paying a higher tax rate.
It’s a very simple concept. The Sun uses this same theory, doesn’t it? You are constantly lowering your subscription prices to your NEW readers in order to get more readers — thus increasing the levels you can charge your advertisers.
If it’s good for your business, why can’t it work for Baltimore? I think it can and that’s why I signed the petition.
— Mac Kennedy, Baltimore
I am a native Marylander, having grown up in Baltimore County, and spending over a decade as an adult living in Baltimore City. As the home to world-class educational, medical and financial institutions, an attractive waterfront, well-established park system, and historic neighborhoods and architecture, the city has assets that are a model for other cities. At the same time, the city has been hindered by levels of violent crime, addiction and concentrations of poverty that are disproportionate to the size of its population. As a result, the city has continued to lose residents for over half a century despite its assets.
While the city could not prevent the appetite for suburban living among middle-class households, it has exacerbated the problem by failing to leverage its assets and entice more households to stay or move to the city. This failure, at least in part, is due to the city having neither a competitive tax structure nor modern infrastructure (i.e., a functional public transportation system). These problems are structural: Without incentives to promote a greater degree of wealth among its residents, relative to the suburbs, the city is unwelcoming and poorly integrated within the larger metropolitan region. This posture has rendered its problems more intractable and the city unable to reach its potential.
Across administrations, the city has suffered from weak leadership that has failed to recognize these problems. It is clear that the city will not, on its own, address the root of these problems. Given this inertia, I came to believe that outside pressure on the city in the form of a coalition was needed to force it to address its structural failings. Thus, I was very excited to learn that others had reached a similar conclusion and come together to organize “Renew Baltimore” in order to enact a significant reduction in the city’s property tax rate by proposing amendments to the City Charter. If these amendments are enacted, it will probably constitute the best news for the city that I can remember since I first became vested in the city’s future following my graduation from college in the early 2000s.
I agree with the coalition’s framing of Baltimore’s property tax system as inequitable: it harms low-income homeowners and homeowners on fixed incomes, many of whom are persons of color or elderly or both; discourages investment; encourages suburban flight; inhibits appreciation in property values and diverts a greater share of income to paying property taxes rather than to building equity in that property. By contrast, a significant reduction in property taxes will provide households with reason to invest in Baltimore City and will build more wealth throughout the city. Meanwhile, city government will benefit from a growing or stable population and more balanced approach to generating revenue.
That being said, the one piece missing from this proposal (which requires state authorization) is a way to enable the city to raise revenue from the thousands of individuals who work in and play in, but do not live in, Baltimore City, for example through a local option sales tax. Under the existing framework, residents of Baltimore City shoulder an uneven share of the cost of running city government in relation to the population that benefits from city services. The city should therefore be able to explore alternative sources of revenue that do not burden residents or discourage population growth in order to offset any losses from a significant reduction in property taxes.
Notwithstanding the likely need for some offsets, the charter amendments represent a bold approach to making serious reform to Baltimore City government. I applaud the formation of Renew Baltimore and its goals.
— Michael Kroopnick, Brooklyn, New York
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