Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke was the lone vote against moving a bill forward for final approval that would cut 20 cents from residents property tax rate in eight years.
Despite Clarke’s objection, the City Council approved sending the bill to third and final reader on Monday night.
Clarke, a veteran North Baltimore council member, argued against the tax cut, especially at a time when the city’s budget includes closing three firehouses, and when an official budget has not been presented to the council.
“My concern [is] of the timing of this tax cut," Clarke said. "Not so much the tax cut itself, but we just talked about a bake sale and sponsorship for firefighters. Right now we have not seen a budget and in fact there isn’t a budget to be seen yet."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has of the city’s $2.3 billion operating budget, which closes a projected $48 million deficit with measures including closing eight recreation centers, merging 911 and 311 call centers and having the Bureau of Solid Waste collect trash in city parks.
But the Maryland General Assembly’s adoption of the earlier this month could force the city to overhaul its budget because of $512 million in cuts statewide. The mayor has urged Gov. Martin O’Malley to call a special session to approve a budget that includes new revenue streams so these cuts can be avoided.
The tax cut bill will cost the city $3.8 million in fiscal year 2013 with fees charged to a city slots casino paying for the cuts in out years. Currently Baltimore has the highest property tax rate in the state and more than double the rate charged in neighboring Baltimore County.
"This bill would cut $3.8 million out of the next year’s budget for a tax break that would basically mean $3.30 less a month for people living in a $200,000 assessed dwelling,” Clarke said. “I’m not standing to oppose this; I’m standing to simply say that I think we need all the cards on the table when we look at what we feel is necessary for us to have to fill the gaps for next year."
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