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The Nose

Fringe Benefits

Posted 2/26/2003

Proximity doesn't always breed similarity. Look at Britain and France--divided by a piddling channel but worlds apart culturally. (One example: The Brits eat deep-fried fish wrapped in old newspapers, and the French . . . well, the French eat French food.) Here in the Greatest City in America, we seem to have our own curious, close-quarters divide.A matter of a few blocks separates the lower reaches of the Charles Village Community Benefits District (CVCBD) from the upper reaches of the Midtown Community Benefits District--two chunks of town where property owners pay tax surcharges as a means to fund local community-improvement efforts. In Chuck Village, the district has long been under fire from a rabid posse of residents who want to dispense with it, and the extra tax payments it runs on. It doesn't work, they contend. They've taken their fight to the courts (an anti-district lawsuit is in appeals) and City Hall, where the Charles Village district concept faces reauthorization from the City Council. (See "A Village Divided,", the February 12 Mobtown Beat news story covering the clash.)

And in Midtown, home to Nose HQ? Well, we beat the bushes trying to find folks in our 'hood who hated the tax-funded district. And we came up empty. Not to say there isn't some grumbling in Bolton Hill, Charles North, Madison Park, and Mount Vernon-Belvedere (the neighborhoods served by Midtown), but it never reached the Village's venomous level. The Midtown district is also up for reauthorization this year, and most effected residents are greeting this reality with a yawn, not a brickbat.

Sandy Sparks, the Charles Village resident who served as the Midtown district's executive director for four years until stepping down last August, had this to say: "There's been a core group against the [CVCBD] from day one, and they have been nothing but negative and have no interest in it being successful. There just isn't such a group in Midtown."

"I think the streets are cleaner, thanks to the Midtown District," says Regina Minniss, board member of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association neighborhood group. "It's worth it."

The "it" she's referring to is the property-tax surcharge Midtown residents are hit with to fund the district: 13 cents per $100 of assessed value, which is a penny more per Benjamin than they pay in the Village. This higher rate--and Midtown's larger size (and, the Nose figures, higher property values)--earns the district a larger surcharge war chest ($573,000 this fiscal year compared to CVCBD's $341,000). Both districts' coffers are also boosted by substantial grants and donations, murkying the funding picture some.

Both districts attack crime (via safety patrols) and grime (via cleaning crews), but they don't do it the same way. Sparks says under her watch she shifted the Midtown district's focus toward keeping the streets clean. Midtown has eight employees battling trash and only four taking on crime. But in the Village, spending tilts nearly 2-to-1 in favor of crime-fighting. The CVCBD employs five full-time safety workers, four part-timers, and tosses in a part-time off-duty cop. Only two full-timers and two part-timers go after garbage up that way. This struck the Nose as significant, as much of what the CVCBD naysayers harp about is the Village's trashy appearance.

But it was Charlie Duff, Bolton Hill resident and board president of the Midtown Community Development Corp (which helps folks rehab houses in the district, among other community-boosting activities), that uncovered another district divide. "Personally, I think the idea of special benefits districts is a good one, and it is weird to oppose them on principle," he says. "I think Charles Village has a bunch of old lefties, and Midtown does not."

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