Answers from Carl Stokes
Carl Stokes' life is a Baltimore story, begun in a neighborhood that thrived, with schools that excelled and jobs available after graduation. He is running for mayor to return our neighborhoods to prosperity. Read more.
Do you believe that the City property tax rate is a deterrent to attracting new residents and businesses to locate in Baltimore City?
If you answered "yes" to Qt. 1, what is your strategy for reducing the tax rate?
Baltimore has to lower its property tax rate. Incentivizing investment with a lower tax rate will create both jobs and economic viability. I propose cutting the tax by 50 percent within 5-8 years. During the time of property tax reduction, we will look to the following to provide additional revenue to the city:
• popping the Homestead tax credit, which currently creates a false ceiling, currently at 4 percent, we can increase it by 2 percent a year up to 10 percent and then reverse it again and put every penny of the increase of funds toward the rate reduction. Seniors and income limited homeowners will have caps as allowed by city and state programs; and
• accepting Smart Growth funding state aid, as has been provided in several other states that lasts over a 2 to 3-year window.
Given the inequity between what residents pay in real estate taxes and corporations and nonprofits do and don't pay, what is your plan to reduce the disparities in property taxes so that everyone pays their share in keeping the city financially solvent?
I have stood virtually alone in saying no to wealthy developers receiving huge tax breaks with no direct benefit to the communities. As Chair of the Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee, no tax incentive will move favorably by the committee unless tangible and direct resources are provided to the most vulnerable communities around these developments and priority will be given to programs in the outer harbor areas. As mayor, no tax break will be introduced that does not include a Community Benefits Agreement including local hiring.
Would you consider increasing taxes on vacant property, while lowering them on occupied property? Can you be specific?
I agree that vacant properties assessed at a lower value so not paying much in tax is unfair. In order to do that we would need a tiered approach like Washington DC. At the moment, tiered real property tax rates are not legal in the state of Maryland and would take legislation to do so.
Describe your vision for our ten year financial plan?
My vision for a sustainable and growing budget an economy in Baltimore will be directly connected in our success in growing homeownership through lower property taxes, jobs so that citizens can afford a home and a commitment from small developers to renovate and bring our housing stock back to properties paying taxes; a boom in small business and entrepreneurial endeavors to increase the number of jobs in the city; and making government more efficient.
All fiscal planning in my administration will start with auditing every department for financial and productivity waste. I'm not here to say that there is waste in every department and division, I am saying that we have no idea. Until we know what we are working with it is difficult to envision a financial "plan."
How would you propose compelling the City Schools Administration to do a top-to-bottom overhaul of its operating inefficiencies?
I believe that the mayor should own, be accountable and responsible for our city schools' performance. The Commissioners are appointed by the mayor, and there is where the current disconnect lies. It's not even a matter of hierarchy, it's a matter of working together, leading as a mayor with known expectations of what the school system needs to accomplish. And, the mayor and City Council must increase funding to the schools to a minimum of 30 percent of the city's operating budget over the next four years as opposed to the current 11-13 percent. No additional monies will be provided without auditing both finances and performance of the school system to see where there is currently successes and inefficiencies.
Explain the role of charter schools for Baltimore. Do you think charter schools help the City retain families who do have the resources to relocate to other jurisdictions? Please explain.
I think the role of charter schools is to give all parents an alternative to the traditional public schools, which are failing our students and their futures. Do some parents stay in the city because their child(ren) receive entrance to a charter school? Perhaps.
We must identify best practices from charter schools and apply them to traditional public schools. After school programming, mental health and social services onsite, year-round schooling, and mandatory parent involvement to name a few. Additionally, traditional public schools are not given autonomy to use their per pupil dollars because the system dictates how some of those funds will be used. Charter schools are autonomous and can decide exactly how that amount is used. All public schools, traditional and charter should have the autonomy to make the decisions as to how their budget it spent.
Describe, with specific examples, how you would expand and diversify the city's economy.
• Bring more jobs to Baltimore - We will implement market driven growth strategies through an innovation economy that includes an innovation ecosystem, leveraging anchor institutions, and neighborhood revitalization; create effective economic development tools such as choice neighborhoods, target community funding, main streets and targeted general obligation funds for specific business investment; and build a skilled, productive workforce focused on healthcare, technology and construction.
• Nurture a business-friendly environment - Building a friendly business environment starts with reducing the property tax, establishing an action agenda for improved transportation and transit in the region, providing high speed internet service throughout the city, and establishing a Blue Ribbon Task Force of business, government, institution and community representatives to evaluate how best to expedite City processes and create a customer friendly City.
• Evaluate and re-organize government agencies - The Baltimore Development Corporation and its mission, successes, and internal workings must be evaluation and assessed. Establish a Community Redevelopment task force to immediately identify which communities are considered the most vulnerable and assist each community group within those communities to develop their own redevelopment plan. Publish a comprehensive plan to address the issues of Economic Development, Community Redevelopment and Neighborhood Revitalization with a particular focus on Baltimore's socio-economic demographics.
What is your strategy to boost neighborhood commercial business districts and small businesses? Is there specific red tape to be cut?
A critical driver of neighborhood prosperity is revitalizing commercial centers across our City. Vibrant retail areas not only are a great source of minority focused small business opportunities and community based jobs, but an essential amenity to strong neighborhoods. I will expand the current Main Streets program with additional tools and resources. These added resources may include a robust retail financing program, retail workforce training, events and programming support.
The local/regional food economy is fast emerging as a powerful force for rebuilding the economy of cities while bringing health and environmental benefits. Projects like City Seeds and the Baltimore Food Hub offer great hope for the neighborhoods of East and West Baltimore.
As Mayor, I will make these requirements for the Planning Department:
• Publish a comprehensive plan to address the issues of Economic Development, Community Redevelopment and Neighborhood Revitalization with a particular focus on Baltimore's socioeconomic demographics.
• Include in this plan all "Main Streets," potential "Innovation Hubs," Community Public Schools and institutions, major employers, and Community amenities.
• Work with the Department of Public Works to develop a plan for infrastructure needs for Municipal Broadband and high-speed internet that will initially service the Public Schools and the Public service agencies.
• Take initiative in resolving critical urban issues such as safer streets, 'walkable' neighborhoods, and sufficient green space for outdoor recreation.
What would be your plan to address the city's vacant houses and abandoned lots?
Who wants to buy a house valued at zero dollars for $5,000, $10,000 or even $15,000 then have to spend thousands of dollars renovating the building? If we want to bring back our neighborhoods by eliminating vacant housing, we need to get them onto the tax rolls. DHCD under my administration will sell the houses for $1 to small developers and homeowners with the financial means to renovate the house. The sale of houses needs to be planned so that scattered vacant houses in "cusp" neighborhoods are quickly sold and put into the hands of homeowners and where there are blocks of vacant houses, the entire block is sold to be renovated or identified for open space use.
Small developers who purchase blocks of houses become part of the process to put Baltimoreans to work and provide a livable wage so that they can be the ultimate purchasers of these homes if they choose. The city, developers and contractors will not do this alone. They will work with nonprofits already offering training programs for young people, unemployed people and those re-entering our communities who want to work.
What do you propose to do with city owned buildings, such as schools, offices, public works, yards, etc. that are no longer needed or in service?
We must look at new and innovative uses for these properties. Those in areas where redevelopment or open space are option, they should be repurposed or torn down, much like the new Baltimore Food Hub that is restoring a former water pumping station in the Oliver community as offices and food truck parking.
Which City agencies are in the greatest need of reform and what specific reforms to do you have in mind?
Housing and Public Works are two departments I will focus on first once elected mayor. The Department of Housing and Community Development stopped being a leader in the community development part of its mission years ago and in terms of public housing became an entrenched bureaucracy that lost touch with the residents of public housing. This was caused by failed leadership both by the mayor and commissioner.
The Housing Commissioner needs to be present in our neighborhoods and in our public housing developments. Under a Stokes Administration, staff meetings will be held in the community so that part of the meeting is a tour of the area, connecting them with the people of the city. There should be staff on the ground responsible for reporting current conditions of public housing to the higher levels of the administration. The agency has become cloistered and we need to break down the walls between citizens and the public servants who work for them.
The department of public works needs to, as many departments but more so DPW, need to communicate more efficiently with the citizens and business owners of Baltimore. Their work effects everyone in the city and thus should be promoted as well as use alerts to allow folks to have a say in future plans. We will also use a form of CitiStat much more within this department for accountability and transparency so folks can go online and see the status of their 311 call.
For all city agencies, must hire local housing advocates and professionals to lead this agency. We must look inside the agencies where current middle management have been passed over for higher ranking positions for which they are most qualified. Before hiring anyone to a top position, we will look inside the departments and within Baltimore I will fill the top positions with such talent as well as well as seek their advisement on persons beyond our borders.
What would be your first priority to reduce crime in the city? Please specifically address violent and property crimes separately. What administrative reforms that you would prioritize for the police department?
My first priority because it is the easiest to put in place (no major shift in policy or budget) is to improve our community policing with officers on the street, without cars so they meet the neighbors and business owners and know who the bad guys are. This will begin to address both violent and property crimes.
To decrease violent crime, we must get violent repeat offenders of the street. According to police and state's attorney there are 238 "bad guys" out there committing the majority of violent crimes in our city. We can't arrest them without proof, but I can guarantee if they are committing violent crimes they are committing minor crimes. These are lawless people that you surveil because they will slip up and they will be caught on something. In addition, those caught with illegals guns or using a handgun in the commission of a crime should not be able to plea bargain and should receive the full sentence.
As for property crime this problem can be positively impacted through education and jobs. So much property crime is done by young people, bored, little to no education, no jobs. We must start early so this may not be a quick fix but if we don't start now with the youngest generation, we will never win this war. For example, providing college and career readiness pathways for students with parental input in middle school; designing creative recruitment strategies for teachers; establishing ongoing, relevant training for teachers/administrators; implementing system-wide standards for discipline; and expanding programs focused on early learning opportunities, increasing grade level reading and math skills, and STEM curriculum.
What will you do about Baltimore's aging infrastructure from old sewers to bridges and roads and water lines?
First I will build a strong relationship with state and federal officials because for these projects their funding and support is paramount to success.
What specific strategies will you use to increase the City's population, and specifically to attract and retain such expanding population groups as millennials and immigrants?
We will stop the loss and increase the population when the property tax rate decreases, schools improve, and people feel safe in their home and communities. Baltimore has many amenities that residents want like parks, culture, restaurants, walkability. But until the other challenges are addressed we will continue to lose population.