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

By Andrea Appleton | Posted 5/12/2010

Correction: The original version of this column contained an incorrect entry indicating that the city had proposed a property-tax increase for 2011. The erroneous information has been removed from the column that appears below. The error did not appear in the print version of City Paper.

On the agenda for May 3

Bill 10-0490 Ordinance of Estimates for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2011

Provides the estimated funding that will be needed by each city agency for operating programs and capital projects during the coming fiscal year.

Bill 10-0492 Operating Budget for the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2011

Would approve the operating budget for the city's school commissioners for the coming fiscal year.

Bill 10-0493 Rezoning--Certain Properties in the Westport Area

Would rezone a number of properties in south Baltimore's Westport neighborhood. One batch along Annapolis Road would go from residential to commercial; another batch along Forester Avenue, Cedley Street, Maisel Street and Sidney Avenue would go from industrial to residential.

Bill 10-0494 Urban Renewal--Annapolis Road--Renewal Area Designation and Renewal Plan

Would designate a roughly 10-square-block area in south Baltimore's Westport neighborhood as a "Renewal Area" for 10 years from the date of adoption.

The Read: The stated goals of the plan are to bring about a "general physical improvement" along Annapolis Road in Westport through the rehabilitation of existing buildings and the promotion of new, mixed-use development. The designation would also make certain property owners eligible for tax exemptions.

Bills 10-0495, 10-0496, 10-0497, 10-0498

A batch of bills that would "extend the Metropolitan District of Baltimore County" to several small tracts of land the county.

The Read: Baltimore County's public water system is controlled by Baltimore City. The Baltimore City Council must therefore approve any new water lines in the county. These "extensions" would allow several areas in the county to fall within the Metropolitan District of Baltimore County and thus access the city's water.

Bill 10-0500 Zoning Legislation--Amendments

Would exempt any amended zoning legislation from rehearing if the amendments consist only of changes in punctuation, grammar, or spelling, or otherwise don't alter the substance of the ordinance.

The Read: Introduced by Councilman Bill Henry (D-4th District), the bill is intended to streamline zoning legislation by making it unnecessary to rehear legislation when only superficial changes have been made. It would allow a zoning bill's sponsor, for instance, to remove his or her name midway through the legislative process, on "second reader," without forcing the council to hold a new hearing.

Bill 10-0499 Charter Amendment--Procurement Would amend City Charter rules on awarding contracts and making purchases.

The Read: The bill, subject to voter approval, would change a number of details in the city's bidding process. Among those, it would allow the mayor and City Council to set dollar thresholds for contracts that must be formally advertised. (Currently, contracts of $25,000 or more require formal advertising.)

Contracts that exceed that dollar threshold would have to be advertised in at least one daily newspaper and be published electronically. In cases where emergency purchases are necessary or competitive bids aren't practical, the city "when practicable" would also have to electronically post its intent not to seek competitive bids.

Bill 10-0501 City Resident Hiring Preference Work Group Would form a work group to draft new rules concerning the hiring of city residents for government-funded work.

The Read: Currently, the city is supposed to give priority in awarding contracts to businesses that are owned by or largely employ qualified residents, but the rule has no teeth. The work group created by this bill would hammer out an enforceable obligation to hire locally. As the bill states, it is likely to take years of "creative lawyering" to come up with such a regulation, because of the potential for challenges on the basis of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution and city charter requirements governing competitive bidding.

Bill 10-0502 Parking Fines and Penalties--Amnesty Would modify how often amnesties for parking-ticket penalties are permitted and would provide for a special amnesty on passage of the bill.

The Read: Currently, the city may only allow a parking-ticket amnesty--in which violators may pay their original tickets, without liability for any accrued fines--once every 10 years. This bill would allow the city to offer an amnesty once during each four-year mayoral term. It would also allow violators five days, rather than two, to take advantage of the amnesty. The bill generated fierce debate. In the face of the current budget crisis, Councilmember Bill Henry (D-4th District), the bill's sponsor, reeled off a list of names the mayor's preliminary budget has earned thus far. "Awful, terrible, doomsday, worst ever, worst in history, worst in memory, worst in living memory," he said. "So I'm thinking, let's add a number to the table." He and other supporters pointed to the instant revenue an amnesty would generate, as well as the relief it would provide to city residents.

Councilmember Helen Holton (D-8th District) was one of the bill's opponents. "It's almost like being penny wise and a pound foolish," she said. The city would lose thousands of dollars in overdue fines if the bill passes, said opponents, and encourage people to avoid paying their tickets in hopes of an amnesty.

Bill 10-0503 Taxes--Outdoor Advertising Excise Tax Would impose a tax of $5 per square foot on outdoor advertising measuring 50 square feet or larger.

The Read: This bill is another of Councilmember Henry's attempts to close the city's looming budget gap. "Looking for additional revenue . . . I looked low and high," he said. "And when I looked high, I saw a lot of billboards throughout the city." The tax would only apply to advertising that promotes a product in a place other than the premises where that product is available.

Bill 10-0504 Sewer Service Charges--Exceptions Would allow residential properties to make use of an exception to city sewer charges that is currently available to commercial and industrial properties.

The Read: Introduced by Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District), the bill would allow residents to claim an exemption from sewer charges if they could prove--with a city-approved device installed at their own cost--that their water is not being discharged into the city's sanitary facilities.

Bill 10-0505 Minimum Wage--Living Wage for Major Retailer Employees Would require major retail stores to pay employees a living wage, as determined by the city.

The Read: Though Councilmember Clarke did not mention any specific stores at the meeting, the bill she introduced likely targets a new development proposed for the Remington/Charles Village area, which would include a Walmart. It would require that retailers whose annual gross volume of sales--at the corporate level--exceeds $10 million pay more than $10 an hour to their employees.

Bill 10-0506 Mayor's Anti-Animal Abuse Advisory Commission--Establishment Would create a commission to advise City Council and the mayor on how best to curb animal cruelty.

The Read: Last summer, in the wake of the horrific intentional burning of a pit bull dubbed Phoenix, the Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force was established. The Task Force, which has issued an interim report with numerous suggestions for improving the city's response to animal abuse, is set to sunset at the end of June. This bill would essentially turn the task force into a permanent commission, composed of agency representatives and mayoral appointees from every City Council district, in addition to representatives from several animal-advocacy groups.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for May 17 at 5 p.m.

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