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

By Andrea Appleton | Posted 6/2/2010

On the agenda for May 24

Council chambers were colorful at Monday's meeting. Members of Latino advocacy group CASA de Maryland came out in force to support a resolution in opposition to Arizona's new anti-immigration law, and they all wore bright red T-shirts. Interfaith group BUILD, showing support for the mayor's revenue package--sported turquoise shirts. And AFSCME union members were on hand in green tees to rally against hundreds of impending city layoffs. Sprinkled throughout the full-to-capacity chambers were the more drably apparelled opponents of the so-called bottle tax, which would have imposed a 4-cent fee on certain beverages. In the face of determined opposition from the grocery and beverage industries, the council postponed a vote on the measure for the second time, a move that may put the notion to rest for good.

Bill 10-0516 Non-Owner-Occupied Dwellings and Vacant Structures--Multiple-Family Dwellings and Rooming Houses

Would require owners of vacant residential properties and owners of vacant commercial buildings to pay an annual registration fee, $100 and $250, respectively. Failing to register would incur a $500 penalty.

The Read: City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young's (D) proposal to make owners of Baltimore's many vacant properties pay up is another attempt to close the yawning $121 million budget gap. The measure received unanimous support and, according to a council press release, would bring in about a million dollars in revenue.

Bill 10-0517 Telecommunications Tax--Television Connections

Would extend the current $4 tax governing "telecommunication" lines to cable services.

The Read: Introduced by Councilmember James Kraft (D-1st District), the tax is another attempt to squeeze blood from a stone, with revenue expected to be as high as $10 million. But Kraft was forced to shelve the bill days later when it was discovered that imposing the tax would violate federal law.

Bill 10-0518 Annual Property Tax--Fiscal 2011

Would maintain current property tax rates for the coming fiscal year.

The Read: Throughout this painful budget process, the City Council and the mayor have kept an increase in property taxes off the table. In introducing this bill, Kraft went a step further by proposing that taxpayers might even get some money back this year. "[W]e could do a rebate, either mid-year or the end of next year, if we draw more funds than we are anticipating from projected new revenue sources," he said. Kraft pointed out that in fiscal year 2011, property taxes account for several percentage points more than in 2010's budget. "So even though that rate did not go up, our dependency on it has," he said. "What I am proposing is an effort to reduce that."

Resolution 10-0209R Informational Hearing--Recordation of Tax Sale Properties

Asks that representatives from the departments of Finance and Housing report on how many properties foreclosed on through the tax sale process are lacking a recorded deed, and how this is affecting the city financially.

The Read: Some of those purchasing tax lien certificates may be taking advantage of what Councilmember Belinda Conaway (D-7th District), who introduced the resolution, called "legal limbo" to avoid paying property taxes. According to Conaway, some of these purchasers go ahead and foreclose on the property but fail to record their deeds after taking ownership of the title. As a result, the city does not collect recordation and property taxes from them.

Resolution 10-0210R In Opposition to Proposed State Legislation--"Arizona" Anti-Immigration Law

Expresses opposition to the introduction of an anti-immigration law in the state that would require law enforcement officers to question anyone they suspect is in the country illegally.

The Read: State Del. Pat McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, recently announced that he plans to introduce legislation in the 2011 session that would replicate the controversial Arizona anti-immigration law. The Arizona legislation requires local police to enforce federal immigration laws by forcing anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally to produce a green card or other proof of citizenship. Opponents have said the legislation would encourage racial profiling and foment distrust for the police.

"Southeast Baltimore has always prided itself for being the most diverse section of the city," said Councilmember Kraft, who represents the most heavily Latino neighborhoods in the city. "I'm wearing a button that says i am immigrant america. My mom's family left Bremen and landed in Locust Point, right from Germany."

With unanimous support, the council immediately adopted the resolution.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for June 7 at 5 p.m.

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