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Final vote for Port Covington TIF set

P. Kenneth Burns

The Baltimore City Council gave preliminary approval Monday to a tax financing package for the proposed Port Covington development project.  The package is expected to pass a final vote at the council’s next meeting Sept. 19.

But Monday’s vote didn’t come before some members said they were concerned about how one of the bills – authorizing $660 million in tax bonds – was moved out of committee and to the full council.

The council’s taxation, finance and economic development committee approved two bills creating the development and taxing districts necessary for the Port Covington project last week. But committee chairman Carl Stokes recessed the meeting before the committee could vote on the bond bill.

Over the weekend, Councilman Eric Costello - whose district includes Port Covington - rounded up the votes to force the bond bill out of committee.

Stokes – who voted yes on each bill – complained that the petition “flies in the face of good order and rule of law.”

He reminded the council that he called for the recess before the vote on the bond bill because no one had a copy of a $100 million plus community benefits agreement announced just before the committee met.

No one voted against the bills, but three members--Warren Branch, Bill Henry and Mary Pat Clarke – abstained.

Henry said he didn’t want to vote against what he called an important project that is “potentially transformative.”  But added he would like to have seen the community benefits and profit sharing agreements before the bond bill was voted out of committee.

“I thought we moved a little fast,” he said.  “The process could have been better.”

Clarke said she abstained in part because the tax increment financing, or TIF, does not address a prevailing wage for the work site, a living wage for permanent jobs at Port Covington, project labor agreements and the right for project workers to organize.

“I think a lot of progress has been made in these negotiations, but it stopped too soon,” she said.

Council President Jack Young, Council Vice President Ed Reisinger and Councilmen Jim Kraft, Brandon Scott, Robert Curran, Rikki Spector, Sharon Green Middleton, Nick Mosby, Helen Holton and Pete Welch joined Costello on the vote to bring the bond bill out of committee.

Young said after the meeting the committee had plenty of time to look over the proposed TIF.

“I think I gave ample enough time – four months,” he said while adding negotiations between some community leaders, representatives from Sagamore Development; the developer of Port Covington, and city officials went on for nine weeks.

“What I said was everybody get in the room and come back with a deal that we can support,” Young said.  “We’re not going to get 100 percent of everything we want, but let’s get the best deal for Baltimore and I think we done that.”

The community benefits agreement includes double the inclusionary housing at Port Covington than originally sought, money for recreation facilities, scholarships and summer jobs for youth.

Officials and some community leaders praised the agreement as setting a new precedent for the city.

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