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Port Covington tax financing hits snag

P. Kenneth Burns

A Baltimore City Council committee voted Thursday night to send two bills to the full city council as part of a tax financing package for the Port Covington project.

The first bill designates the development district while the other creates the tax district for the South Baltimore project. The vote on the third bill to authorize $660 million in tax bonds did not take place.

That’s because Councilman Carl Stokes, the committee chair, wanted to give interested parties time for further review. He ended the meeting without calling for a vote on the bond measure.

After speaking to Council President Jack Young, Stokes told reporters a vote on the bond bill will take place not later than next week. He wanted to give people more time to read a community benefits agreement that was announced earlier in the day between city officials, some community groups and representatives from Sagamore Development.

Stokes said the limited public testimony heard during the work session played a role in his decision to delay the vote.

“We tried to do a process that was much more open and much more transparent than the citizenry normally see,” he said.

The hearing that ran more than two hours with an abrupt end was contentious at times.

Opponents to the tax financing deal heckled committee members and Sagamore representatives.

Stokes also expressed concerns about the lack of a “hold harmless” clause to protect state funding of city schools. A formula the state uses to fund schools takes tax financing deals, or TIFs, into account; making districts richer than what they are on paper. Ultimately reducing the amount of state funds a district receives.

One Community Agreement

WYPR's Kenneth Burns reports on the city-wide community benefits agreement for the Port Covington project.

Credit P. Kenneth Burns
Plank Industries CEO Tom Geddes, at podium, announcing a city-wide community benefits agreement that he said was "not big" but "huge."

Earlier in the day, at the City Garage near the Port Covington site, Sagamore, joined by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Young and some city council members along with members of BUILD celebrated a citywide community benefits agreement worth more than $100 million.

The agreement includes a mandate that 30 percent of the work on Port Covington project be performed by city residents.  Plus a goal to give 30 percent of the permanent jobs on the site to city residents.

In addition, the agreement calls for 20 percent of the residential units to be affordable housing.  Within that, the majority of the affordable units must be on site at Port Covington while the balance can be developed off site.

The deal also includes $39 million for six South Baltimore communities to address needs there, $1.5 million to fund 100 Youth Works summer jobs for the next ten years, $1 million in scholarships for city school students and money for recreation centers.

The Rev. Glenna Huber of BUILD broke out in song during the announcement.

”Don’t you feel a brand new day,” she sung. Huber said that the community agreement sets a new precedent for future downtown development deals.

Never again will there be public subsidy without corporate responsibility to meet the needs of uptown and downtown,” she added. “Never again will we hear wishful thinking without strict accountability and enforcement.”

Not all community groups heralded the agreement.

Credit P. Kenneth Burns
Members of Build Up Baltimore, PORT3 and LiUNA hold a rally at the War Memorial Plaza calling for a better community benefits agreement.

Shortly after the announcement the Build Up Baltimore and PORT3 coalitions held a rally on War Memorial Plaza before the city council committee hearing.

Charly Carter, with Maryland Working Families, said the agreement has no teeth. She added the affordable housing agreement, in particular, is not inclusionary of lower incomes.

“They want to create segregated buildings for affordable housing,” said Carter. “So even within Port Covington, we’ll have a section that’s just poor people.”

Jermaine Jones, with LiUNA Local 710, criticized the agreement as no different from other community agreements like the University of Maryland Biopark and with Johns Hopkins and East Baltimore Development Inc.

LiUNA is not part of the coalition group but participated in the rally.

“Quite frankly, it’s just another $100 million worth of promises,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, they give you 100 million one different reasons why those promises couldn’t come into fruition.

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