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

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 4/21/2010

On the agenda for April 19

Bill 10-0482 Fire and Police Employees’ Retirement System—Benefits. Would adjust the pension’s assumed rate of interest accrual, change the definition of “average final compensation,” and generally tweak the plan to save taxpayers money and diminish benefits for future retirees.

The Read: If nothing is done, the city will have to fork over $165 million to the fire and police pension fund on July 1, which it cannot afford. For two years, pension-board members and administration officials have tried to work out a deal amenable to both sides. This bill, introduced by Councilwoman Helen Holton (D-8th District), is the latest effort. “If we don’t do something, we could end up looking at a $185 million deficit,” she said, with “300 firefighters and police officers laid off.” In its current form, the bill would replace a so-called “variable benefit,” which increases pension payouts in years when investment income is high, with a fixed cost-of-living increase. It would also replace a deferred-retirement system, called DROP 2, with a less generous benefit and base retirement income on the member’s highest three-year base salary. Fire and police unions oppose the changes, promising a political battle. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did not introduce the measure as an Administration Bill, which is ordinarily the custom.

Bill 10-0483 Public Ethics Law—Persons "Doing Business with City." Would require the annual list of persons "doing business with the city" to be available as a searchable electronic database.

The Read: Councilwoman Holton introduced this one without a hint of irony, saying that “in an effort to be compliant” with ethics legislation passed in the wake of a scandal that forced former Mayor Sheila Dixon to resign (and which saw charges against Holton filed, then dropped), “some of us began acting.” Holton said that she found that there was no readily available list of companies and individuals doing business with the city. This bill would compile that list.

Bill 10-0484 Downtown Management District—Adjustment to Supplemental Tax. This would increase the surcharge downtown property owners pay to maintain extra street cleaning, hospitality patrols, and infrastructure improvements.

The Read: The downtown district’s supplemental tax rate was fixed at a level sufficient to generate $1.7 million in its first year; this would allow the district to adjust the rate, “similar to other districts in Baltimore City,” according to the bill. Revenue the district collects has fallen. It is expected to fall further because property values have declined. The increased rate would allow the district to at least maintain its budget. The bill also would increase the district’s debt ceiling from $2 million to $20 million.

Bill 10-0485 City Streets—Temporary Storage Units. Sets up rules and a permit system for those ubiquitous PODS and similar containers.

The Read: This is "an attempt at regulating the storage containers beginning to pop up on city streets, in some cases in front of unsuspecting property owners’ homes,” said Councilman William Cole (D-11th District). He said calling the phone numbers printed on the containers yields no information about who rented the unit, and that one of the containers had been dropped at the entrance to a federal building, prompting security concerns. The bill would require a minimum $50 permit from the Department of Transportation for parking the containers anywhere in the city, would apply normal parking restrictions to a container’s placement, and give the director of transportation the authority to make rules governing the containers’ placement.

Bill 10-0488 Planned Unit Development—Designation—25th Street Station. Approves the application for a new Walmart and Lowes at 25th and Howard streets in Remington.

The Read: Councilwoman Belinda Conaway (D-7th District), who introduced the bill because the development is in her district, said the development will benefit the community. “This is not a done deal,” she said. “It still goes through a committee process, so there is still time for community input.” Opponents of the store dubbed their group BMore Local and staged a rally outside City Hall before the meeting. One neighbor, Megan Hamilton, said she and her neighbors are forming a new community association, called the Historic Fawcett Community Association, to negotiate with the developers. “We’re basically fighting for the survival of our neighborhood,” she said in an interview. “That’s all there is to it. Without a restriction of traffic, we’ll go from being a very viable neighborhood, with three generations living side by side . . . we run a great risk of being crushed by this development.”

Bill 10-0489 Miscellaneous Offense—Citations and Penalty Amounts. Would increase the fines for things like peeing in public, drinking in public, smoking cigarettes inside bars, and spitting.

The Read: Spitting: was $25, now $200; Smoking: was $250, now $500; Selling single cigs: was $150, now $500; Disorderly drinking: was $150, now $750; Public urination: was $150, now $750; etc. Aimed at college rowdies in places such as Canton and Federal Hill, the law theoretically will apply city-wide. “It’s not anti-fun,” said City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who introduced the measure. “It’s to make people responsible for their actions.” Has anyone gotten fined for spitting on the sidewalk?

City Council Quote of the Week

“I think your bill is actually pro-fun. I believe the long-term residents will have a lot of fun watching the students get a $750 ticket for drinking outside and for urinating on other people’s lawns.”—Councilman Bill Henry (D-4th District), in support of increased fines for nuisance behavior.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for May 3 at 5 p.m.

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