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City Council passes property tax installment plan bill, tax sale accounting bill

Rowhouses on the 2800 block of E. North Ave. On Monday, the City Council passed a bill to create a program to allow residents in owners-occupied homes to pay property taxes in monthly installments.
Baltimore Heritage/Flickr
Baltimore Heritage/Flickr
Rowhouses on the 2800 block of E. North Ave. On Monday, the City Council passed a bill to create a program to allow residents in owners-occupied homes to pay property taxes in monthly installments.

The Baltimore City Council passed two bills to create a property tax payment plan to help residents avoid falling in arrears and order the Scott administration to release a comprehensive public report on failings within the tax sale system.

Councilwoman Odette Ramos, who introduced both bills, argued they would reduce the number of Baltimoreans whose homes go to tax sale by preventing low-income residents from falling behind on their taxes and solving errors within the system.

“While there is more work to do to reform our predatory tax sale system — including significant changes that need to pass the General Assembly — we showed our commitment to this issue by passing these bills in our first year of our term,” the freshman Democrat said.

The property tax payment plan bill aims to allow Baltimoreans in owner-occupied homes to pay taxes on those properties in monthly installments, rather than a single lump sum or in twice-yearly payments.

“This is particularly targeted to those who do not have a mortgage that pays their property taxes — so older adults who have paid off their homes and those who have inherited homes,” Ramos said.

Should the bill receive Mayor Brandon Scott’s signature, it’d go into effect in July 2023. Ramos had originally proposed the bill go into effect January 2022, but finance department officials pushed for a longer timeline, saying the legislation would require the creation of a new payment processing system and the hiring of two employees to oversee the program.

Her second bill will require the Department of Finance and the Office of the City

Administrator to submit a report to the council that both details problems with the tax sale

accounting system and provides a plan to address those problems before the next sale.

Ramos said that challenges her constituents have reported include paying their taxes but the payment going toward a different year or different account, inaccuracies with amounts owed and inaccuracies as to owner-occupied versus non-owner occupied homes.

The report must be issued within 120 days of the bill’s enactment; the sale is typically held in mid-May.

The council also passed a bill to rename 199 N. Caroline Street, a city property in Douglas Homes, to Dante Barksdale Square. The Safe Street Outreach Coordinator worked closely with residents of the public housing complex before he was shot to death in January.

The council saw other property-tax related action. Councilman Eric Costello introduced two bills to extend deadlines to apply for certain tax credits.

One measure would affect the historic improvement tax credit, which applies to both historic properties, such as landmarks, and projects that require property-owners to follow certain preservation standards in historic districts. Another would affect the high-performance market-rate rental housing tax credit, which applies to new multi-family buildings with ten or more new, high-performance, market-rate rental housing units that replace previously vacant buildings.

“This is a credit that has been used throughout our city to help contribute to population growth,” Costello said.

His bills were assigned to the Ways and Means Committee.

The council also approved a slew of supplementary general funds tied to a budget surplus and federal relief packages, including $22.6 million the Health Department for older adult food insecurity programs, vaccine administration and sheltering and quarantine costs tied to the pandemic. The department received another $15 million to fund hotel sheltering costs for unhoused Baltimoreans.

“We have many people in hotels saving up income, saving up for a security deposit,” Tisha Edwards, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success told the council at a pre-meeting.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.