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

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 1/21/2009

Bill 09-0261 Land Bank Authority. Would establish a nonprofit corporation controlled by the mayor to hold, collect, and sell city-owned property and assemble parcels for development or other public use.

The read: The city owns about 25 percent of the abandoned buildings in the city--about 4,000 of them--plus many vacant lots. For years politicians have kicked around the idea of establishing a land bank to manage these properties, and Mayor Sheila Dixon empaneled a land-bank task force to hash it out. This bill, which is the task force's first draft, states that the land bank would be exempt from "city and state building, fire, health, and related codes." All non-clerical employees of the authority will have to file financial-disclosure statements with the city's ethics board. The books would be audited and open. The key difference between the system now in place--in which different parts of Baltimore Housing manage some properties, while the Baltimore Development Corporation deals with others--is that the land bank would have the power to raise money by issuing its own bonds. That is, it could borrow, but it could not tax. City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake praised the task-force members for their work. "While this piece of legislation, I'm sure, is not in the form that it's going to get passed," she said, it's a good start.

Bill 09-0263 Tax Credits--Historic Restorations and Rehabilitations. Would extend the tax-credit program, now slated to end Feb. 28, to 2014.

The Read: The historic-rehabilitation tax credit allows the owners of designated historic buildings (Baltimore City has more of these than any other city in the nation) to receive a refundable income-tax credit of 20 percent of the costs of any improvement made to the property. The state only began demanding receipts for the work claimed by homeowners last July, and a similar federal program is not well monitored in terms of checking claimed costs. The credits, which cost state taxpayers about $15 million last year, have been popular among savvy developers. Budget pressure has cut the expenditure proposed for this year to about $10 million, making it harder to obtain the credits, so the complex application process is likely to keep many developers away.

Bill 09-0265 In Support of the City Solicitor's Formation of a Multi-City Litigation Work Group on Foreclosures.

The Read: City Solicitor George Nilson has teamed up with municipal lawyers from St. Paul, Minn., and other cities to plot new and more fruitful ways to sue the big banks. It is not clear why this bill is styled as an ordinance, when it's actually a resolution in support of Nilson's effort to, as the bill states, "create a united local government front for addressing the foreclosure crisis, to hold lenders accountable, to reduce the number of foreclosures," etc. The City Council also passed a resolution, 09-0097R, in support of a moratorium on federal foreclosures. There as yet appears to be no interest in holding house-flippers and/or mortgage fraudsters accountable for their role in the mess.

Bill 09-0269 Transit and Traffic--Temporary Parking Restrictions. Would require five days' notice before anyone could tow your car off the street for parking in the way of progress.

The read: You know those inscrutable paper "No Parking on This Block" signs you see stapled to trees now and then, that usually warn of a two- or-three day parking ban due to scheduled street work, neighborhood festivals, and the like? City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (14th District), sponsor of this bill, thinks these signs ought to go up at least five days before the parking restriction is supposed to go into effect. She thinks they should also include the name and phone number of whoever is in charge of the event requiring parking restrictions. Clarke described a recent scenario in Charles Village in which signs were posted but no one came to do the work that required the parking ban; two days later, on a Saturday morning (when there was no posted parking ban), she says, tow trucks came. "In this case," Clarke said, "there was a lot of e-mailing back and forth, and we never did figure out who was supposed to be there to do what."

Resolution 09-0096R Legislative Oversight--Departments of City Government. Would institute a system of regular review of all city agencies and the school system to make sure everyone is doing their jobs according to their mission, without duplication of effort.

The Read: District 12 Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young sponsored this, saying that "in light of the economic situation we are all facing. . . it would make sense for us to pay attention." Sounds good. Then again, you mean this isn't happening already?

"The indictment filed against me, upon review, is little more than a series of alleged acts cobbled together by prosecutors to reach a predetermined result. We will have our day in court, and I'm confident that when we do we will demonstrate that the charges are legally and factually merit-less." --8th District City Councilwoman Helen Holton, regarding an indictment last week charging her with accepting a $12,500 bribe, perjury, and malfeasance in office.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Jan. 26 at 5 p.m.

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