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Keeping tabs on the City Council's activities so you don't have to

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 3/12/2008

On the Agenda for March 3

In this installment of Councilmania we dispense with letter grades. We'd like you to grade the council's bills and resolutions instead; drop us a line or use the comment form below to chime in.

Bill 08-0062 Property Tax--Homestead Tax Credit Would criminalize taking the homestead credit for a property one does not reside in. If it goes into effect, anyone found to be in violation will owe not just this year's tax, but the preceding three years' plus a civil penalty of twice the amount of the tax credit. If it's not paid, the amounts will become a lien on the properties. The bill also would make taking the homestead credit improperly a criminal violation subject to a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail. "Turn yourself in now," warns 14th District Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, the bill's sponsor.

The story: Clarke has been complaining for months about a new state law requiring that people apply for the tax break, saying the form confuses old folks who never hurt anybody. Now she wants to crack down on cheaters and says the city's finance department is already looking over the rental-registration list for properties listed in state tax records as owners' "principal residence." Real-estate watchers say there are legions of investors who cheat the state and city by claiming multiple homes as principal residences, and so millions of dollars are potentially at stake. Still, since putting in the bill, Clarke has discovered that turning one's self in is no simple matter. Apparently, there's nobody at the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation waiting to take calls from contrite property owners and change the properties' status. "I believe there are lots of innocent cases. We want them to be able to get out," she says. City officials are working now to create a path for those honest--or frightened--enough to do the right thing.

Bill 08-0063 Property Maintenance--Responsibility of City as Owner or Operator 12th District Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young, the bill's sponsor, says this is to "restate, clarify, and emphasize our laws already on the books." He wants the city to obey the laws--particularly those on exterior sanitation--that it enforces on private owners. "We should lead by example," he says.

The Story: Anyone who has ever received a $50 trash ticket should appreciate this. We just hope that the city crews can actually do the work, and that the work stays done. Keeping up appearances costs money, and there are a lot of pressing needs vying for the same pile of dollars.

Bill 08-0064 Scrap Metal processors--Second Hand Property Dealers--Reporting Requirements This would require scrap dealers to keep a roster of names and identifying information on the people who bring in car parts.

The Story: Fourth District Councilman Bill Henry says he's aiming this at the people who've been stealing catalytic converters off the bottoms of parked cars. The cats are worth $100 each--sometimes more--to scrap dealers. The victims pay multiples of that to get new exhausts welded to their vehicles.

City Council Quote of the Week

"Can I just get confirmation that we're still debating whether or not we had the hearing?" --Fourth District Councilman Bill Henry, after a discussion in which several members expressed reluctance to vote "yes" to a favorable report on a hearing of the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee on Taxes and Fees. Although it was explained repeatedly that a "yes" vote simply acknowledged the report's existence--and did not in any way record the councilperson as "in favor" of the report's recommendations--the debate lasted 10 minutes more and resulted in a confused vote. Clarke, Rikki Spector (Fifth District), and Nick D'Adamo (Second District) abstained.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for March 10 at 5 p.m.

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More from Edward Ericson Jr.

Old Habits (7/28/2010)
Medicalization is the hot new thing in drug treatment. Just like in 1970.

Room for Improvement (7/14/2010)
Celebrated crime control measure actually a flop, former chief reveals

Shelling Out (7/7/2010)
Mortgage broker goes bankrupt, seeks mortgage modification as taxpayers face mounting bailout bills

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