Answers from Sheila Dixon
For three decades in public service, Sheila Dixon has been a champion of Baltimore neighborhoods and a pioneer for women and minorities. When you can't find Sheila Dixon being an engaged mother or an advocate for our most vulnerable fellow citizens, you might see her fly by on her beloved bicycle. 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?
The City's current real property tax rate stands at $2.248 per $100 of assessed value – more than two-times the average of surrounding counties. Although Baltimore City's real property tax rate is lower today than it was in the 1970s, the high rate makes buying or renting in Baltimore more expensive and limits private investment.
The most direct path to lower taxes is to expand the tax base and make government more efficient. We will make limited, if any, progress without dramatically reducing violent crime in Baltimore. We did this when I was Mayor, reducing crime to a 20 year low. During my three year as Mayor, the real and personal property assessable base increased an average of 13% a year. The base value increased an average of 4.03 percent the following three years and 7.25% in the previous two years.
As Mayor, I cut taxes one out of three years I was in office, which coincided with the Great Recession. We assembled a Blue Ribbon Panel on Tax and Fees with members from business organizations, citizen, corporations and the major foundations. The Panel concluded that there were no easy solutions. As recommended by the Panel, my administration did secure the legislation in Annapolis to bring gaming into the city, generating revenues for property tax reduction and school construction.
I believe tax rate reduction is the common denominator keeping and attracting jobs in Baltimore City. More jobs translates into greater tax revenue – an expanding tax base – and less costs over time. Job growth is tied to more businesses, which generate revenue. We know that working in Baltimore is the greatest predictor of whether someone will live in the city. The city generates tax revenue from more homeownership, which increases homes values, and personal income taxes. Our retail districts benefit from more customers. We will triple our investment in proven, evidenced-based workforce programs that remove barriers and connect our residents to jobs that can support families.
We have to work hard and smart to keep and attract jobs. In a knowledge-based economy, businesses want to locate where their employees want to live. A livable city has safe and healthy neighborhoods, great schools, busy parks and recreation centers, vibrant Main Streets, cultural amenities, and an integrated public transportation system. We must continually invest in a better quality of life for our citizens in order to compete for jobs and businesses. As part of my plan for economic prosperity, my administration will focus on making sure Baltimoreans of all incomes have housing, transportation and other services they need, increasing their opportunity to take advantage of all our city has to offer.
I am commit to addressing the tax burden in the city; otherwise, the city will stagnate. We will pursue a livability agenda that unleashes private investment throughout our neighborhoods, creating jobs and growing the tax base. In consultation with local economic experts, I will support an annual reduction in the real property tax rate that allows the City to maintain fiscal responsibility and a balanced operating budget.
Cutting the tax rate in half, as some have suggested, would have disastrous effects on the city's ability to meet its most basic public safety and public education mandates, not to mention other basic services. The math of supply side economics – that massive tax cuts will stimulate private investment so dramatically that the tax base will expand to cover the lost revenue – does not add up. It is a risky, unproven bet that is not backed up by the facts. Advocates point to San Francisco and Boston (Proposition 13 and Proposition 2.5) as examples; however, in both instances the State bridged the lost revenue for many years until the tax base recovered. Even with the reduction of taxes in Boston, for example, Baltimore City's tax rate is still lower. Cutting the tax rate in half would cost more than $370 million per year, just less than the $400 million Baltimore City spends on the police department. For further comparison, the City spends $207 million per year on public education.
Finally, in 2014, the Legislature convened a commission, known as the Augustine Commission to examine state incentive programs. It is time that we take a look at our incentives. As Mayor, I would convene a similar commission, and invite BEEF to help, to evaluate whether the panoply of tax credits – historic, Enterprise Zone, brownfield, new construction, High-Performance Market-Rate Rental Housing – are achieving the intended outcomes.
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 will continue the practice of negotiating a PILOT with private hospitals and universities. However, we should also recognize that 14 of our top 15 largest employers are universities and hospitals. Together, health care and education employ more people than any other industry, accounting for three in ten direct jobs.
In recent years, Baltimore's anchor institutions and the communities in which they reside have come together recognizing the fates of both are deeply intertwined. Anchor institutions are realizing the mutual benefits of leveraging their resources to create jobs and revitalize their neighborhoods. As a result, anchors and communities have become allies and advocates for their shared interests in better schools, safer streets and affordable housing. Morgan State University, Bon Secours, Coppin, Johns Hopkins, UMB and others are stepping in where the city, strapped for resources, has stepped back.
As Mayor, I will set a high bar for anchor institutions to create and implement comprehensive community-based revitalization strategies, expanding their local and M/WBE purchasing, adding meaningful contracting goals, hiring from and investing in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods, supporting neighborhood schools, providing incentives for their employees to live in Baltimore and returning properties to the tax rolls.
If by corporations, BEEF means for-profit developers, we need to balance public and private investment. Public Private Partnerships have been an important tool to retain and attract jobs and grow the tax base, but in a city with many needs to address, we must be able to make the case that downtown and neighborhood development are mutually supporting. We will:
· Routinely Reevaluate the Need for Tax Breaks. Incentive programs as a whole should be periodically reevaluated to determine the need for more or less incentives based on improving or declining conditions.
· Perform Cost-Benefit Analysis. Perform impact studies to assess the full impact of a project to the city, both financial and otherwise, in order to determine the needs and the related costs that it generates to the city by adding police, fire and other services.
· Share in the Upside of a Project with Profit Sharing. All P3 projects should include a provision for profit sharing, which would allow the city a return on its investment. Proceeds from profit sharing will be used to invest in city Main Streets.
· Expand TIFs to Include Investments in Community Amenities. Expand the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) to build parks, playgrounds and schools, and to clean up contaminated sites in neighborhoods.
· Uphold our Legal Affordable Housing Requirement. As Mayor, I worked with the City Council in 2007 to adopt the first of its kind legislation requiring developers receiving city incentives to set aside up to 20 percent of their residential units as affordable. The law aimed to end the practice of allowing city financial incentives to perpetuate economically segregated housing. The city should enforce the law or amend it to ensure that its original intent is met.
· Work With the Legislature to Fix the "Wealth Formula" Penalty. The city should not be penalized financially by the State for investing in public-private partnerships that artificially expand the city's assessable base.
Would you consider increasing taxes on vacant property, while lowering them on occupied property? Can you be specific?
We studied a Land Value Tax when I was Mayor and determined at the time that it would produce dramatic reduction in revenue. We would consider a higher tax on vacant property connected with our proposal to create a Land Bank. Many privately owned vacant properties have negative value, already ending up in tax sale. Before we drive more properties to tax sale, we need a strategy to hold and dispose of them. We believe a Land Bank, with a representative community board, is the most efficient way to manage the thousands of vacant properties in our City.
Describe your vision for our ten year financial plan?
Baltimore's ten-year financial picture is enormously complex and a function of multiple factors.
We cannot share a meaningful vision until we have a complete picture of the budget, revenue forecasts, expense assumptions, status of labor contracts and city and retiree health care cost.
How would you propose compelling the City Schools Administration to do a top-to-bottom overhaul of its operating inefficiencies?
I would begin by assembling my team of education advisors, inside and outside of government, to advise me that a top-to-bottom overhaul is necessary. They might recommend, for example, a more targeted approach, undergoing a complete review of procurement, transportation and food service.
The district receives more than $200 million annually from Baltimore City. I believe that the CEO and Board would be responsive to a request from its second largest funder to undertake such reviews, if not overhauls.
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 am reminded that Albert Shanker, the President of the Federation of Teachers, embraced the charter schools concept in 1988 - as laboratories for innovation and reform. I share that original vision and believe charter schools expand options for families. We know that high performing citywide charter schools, like highly effective traditional schools, keep families in Baltimore City.
As Mayor, I created a grant program to help charter schools find and renovate facilities. We leased and in some cases sold city buildings to charter schools.
Describe, with specific examples, how you would expand and diversify the city's economy.
In February, I issued a 19 page, crosscutting strategy with 58 recommendations in 5 categories.
1. Removing Barriers to a Career and Supporting Workers' Rights
2. Supporting Target Industries to Retain and Create Jobs
3. Rebuilding and Reviving Neighborhoods
4. Lowering Taxes and Reforming Developer Tax Breaks
5. Aligning Government with Neighborhood and Economic Development Objectives
Full Economic Plan
What is your strategy to boost neighborhood commercial business districts and small businesses? Is there specific red tape to be cut?
The Historic Main Streets program, expanded under my tenure and currently housed at BDC, is underfunded and understaffed. The most successful Main Streets should graduate from the program freeing up resources to designate new commercial corridors with the potential for revival such as Baltimore Street west of the University of Maryland Biopark and North Avenue west of Coppin State University – both anchored by higher education institutions.
The proceeds from public-private partnership profit-sharing projects will be used to invest in city Main Streets.
Blight must be stopped at its root – it can start with one or two vacant properties along a main street or in the middle the neighborhood. We will allocate $4 million of already budgeted capital funds to reinstitute "intervention buying" to stem the spread of blight along Main Streets. Intervention buying and redevelopment has benefitted Pigtown, Station North and Lauraville and could benefit others.
What would be your plan to address the city's vacant houses and abandoned lots?
Abandoned properties cost all of us money – depleting the property values of adjacent and nearby homeowners, absorbing an unfair share of City taxpayer funded services and reducing safety and quality of life in affected neighborhoods. According to a study by Temple University of vacant properties in Philadelphia, abandoned housing on a block can reduce the value of all other properties by an average of $6,720. Among other things, the reduced value prevents other homeowners from building wealth. More directly, a city's failure to collect even a small percentage of delinquent property taxes due to abandonment can result in billions of lost revenues.
The city's Vacant to Values program has made it possible for developers to assemble vacant public and private property for development in neighborhoods with underlying market strength, but the program is not structured to change the physical landscape in our poorest and most disinvested neighborhoods and cannot substitute for a neighborhood revitalization strategy.
We will work with stakeholders such as the City Comptroller and, more recently, the Maryland Stadium Authority to construct a land bank that speeds up the process of converting abandoned properties to more productive uses, better maintains properties, accelerates demolition, raises outside money, and promotes affordable housing and expands green space.
In addition, we will allocate $4 million of already budgeted capital funds to reinstitute "intervention buying" to stem the spread of blight. A single vacant property on an otherwise stable block or commercial district can create instability. Strategic Intervention buying has benefitted commercial areas such as Pigtown, Station North and Lauraville and neighborhoods like Liberty Heights and Garrison with their large wood frame homes.
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?
As we did when I was Mayor, we will work with the Planning Department and communities to find uses for surplused buildings. BDC or HCD will prepare and release request for proposals (RFPs) that incorporate community goals. We will go farther than looking at just surplus property and also consider strategically located city buildings that have a higher and better use. If it makes financial and community sense, we will relocate city offices, to allow for a transformative, and possibly tax producing, reuse.
Which City agencies are in the greatest need of reform and what specific reforms to do you have in mind?
Every agency of the City is a complex business delivering services internally, externally or both. Every agency can and should meet the management standards of private sector business by regularly reviewing and updating policies, practices and strategies.
Most Mayor's approach their agency leadership and structures with their administrative agenda in mind, generally tackling reorganization of those agencies which will most directly impact and deliver on their priorities.
Having the advantage and experience of managing City government already, I know EVERY agency impacts our progress AND the needed reforms are not something any Mayor can do alone. I would therefore, appoint a taskforce to review current government and agency structures. A 60-day task force will review whether our current structures (i.e. the Departments of Planning, Department of Housing and Community Development, Public Works, Transportation, General Services, Parks and Recreation, Office of Employment Development and Housing Authority of Baltimore City) align with current challenges and opportunities. As an example, many cities have merged their planning and housing agencies to better partner with neighborhood revitalization stakeholders.
In particular, we will review the benefits of combining the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Housing Authority of Baltimore City to increase transparency and accountability and reduce duplication of efforts.
In this review important considerations for every agency will include:
· Transparency of Operations and Finances
· Accountability. Agency executives and leadership will be accountable and will have two years to demonstrate new successes and greater results for the City or face dismissal.
· Customer Service. A culture of customer service must be a core part of City business operations and driven from the top down. There is no reason we should expect or accept anything less from government. Delivery of quality customer service will be a factor in annual performance reviews of department heads.
· Effective Use of Data. Use of data to drive operational decisions must be a priority to maintain service standards with diminishing resources. Agencies will also begin to share data in a manner that invites the public to engage in the management of their own City.
· Test and Implement Best Practices from Other Cities. There are proven technologies supporting greater government transparency and efficiency and we should be continually seeking those practices that will translate to better government and service delivery in Baltimore.
· Mine the Knowledge and Talent of our Customers, Frontline Employees and Long-time Mid-level Managers. I will bring the knowledge and experience of these groups together to to define the customer experience we want in a given service area and then support those new standards through training and standards of accountability to empower front line employees to meet and even exceed expectations. We must also allow mid-level managers to transition out while new managers transition into their new role. "Early retirement programs" and other incentives to shrink the City payroll have had unintended consequences, including significant loss of institutional knowledge, making it difficult to transition effectively to the next generation of civil servants. We need to reform City personnel rules to allow retiring employees to retain certain benefits as they transition to retirement while overlapping with their successors to ensure operational continuity and efficiency.
· Recruit a New Generation of City Leadership and Talent. I will work with agency heads to identify and eliminate bureaucratic constraints in hiring, performance incentives, procurement, and use of technology. Basic employee protections, fiscal accountability, and the highest ethical standards will always be required, but agency leaders must be empowered as urban "mechanics" to fix problems and deliver high quality services. We will encourage agency heads to actively recruit local talent and look to the business community for "loaned executives" to work within City government for a year or more to bring private sector practices and expertise to solving government challenges.
· Expand the Definition of Economic Development. We must dispel the notion that economic development is the exclusive domain of the city's economic, housing and workforce agencies. My previous administration was the first to organize the departments of public works, transportation, and parks under the Deputy Mayor of Neighborhood and Economic Development. Our investments in the Charm City Circulator and the Operation Orange Cone street resurfacing initiative eased commuting. Our investments in cleaner streets and parks and single stream recycling retained and attracted residents. These are quality of life investments as important as the work of the Baltimore Development Corporation and the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Full Economic Plan
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?
The number one job of the Mayor is to make City of Baltimore safer for everyone. In January, I released a four-point plan for making Baltimore a safer city. We will commit to the highest standards of accountability for law enforcement.
To target the most violent offenders, we will prioritize efforts to apprehend and stop gun offenders from committing violent crimes before they happen. We will use the power of data to direct our efforts, bringing together law enforcement, prosecutors, parole, probation, corrections and partners at the state and federal level. We will accomplish this while deemphasizing arrest as a primary means to resolving non-violent crime, enabling officers to focus efforts on apprehending the most violent offenders
Committing to the highest standards for police, we will overhaul the Police Academy, understanding that what we expect from officers is engagement, partnership, assistance and respect. By strengthening the city's independent oversight board, citizens will find it easier to file complaints. We will work with the union to find solutions such as promoting officers that demonstrate community involvement and recruit more officers from the local community.
The police department is not the only city agency that can affect crime. We will realign all city agencies to build partnerships to focus on public safety, and just as importantly, public health, sanitation, vacant houses, and schools. We know that mental health is tied to trauma. Our citizens experience trauma every day. I want to make sure every one of our frontline city workers knows how to recognize and address trauma. Just as we would not think of operating a school without a guidance counselor, we should equip schools with in-house health centers and mental health. We can do this and more by collaborating with universities and hospitals, faith communities and local business. We will encourage hospital emergency departments to counsel victims of trauma and connect them with assistance.
Implement a community policing strategy that is about much more than cops getting out of squad cars. We will work with communities to set the standards of policing in their neighborhoods, which will help prevent break-ins, property destruction, and other crimes that undermine the quality of life. To engage the community in meaningful ways we will build more community spaces in our police facilities, expand summer and other job opportunities for youth, and configure government to assist Baltimoreans to be healthy, safe and secure.
Finally, it is just as important to recognize that our officers are men and women doing a tough job, and that we need to equip them with the best information, technology like body cameras. I have talked with rank-and-file officers, and I believe that under Commissioner Davis' leadership we are moving in the right direction. We should not stop now. The 20-year low in homicides and violent crimes during my previous Mayoral administration came about because of a faithful execution of strategy. We can implement a policing model that creates safer, healthier, stronger community in all of our neighborhoods.
What will you do about Baltimore's aging infrastructure from old sewers to bridges and roads and water lines?
While Baltimore's bridges and roads are certainly in need of greater investment, resources from the state and federal government are more accessible and can be used to match the city's own investment in this critical infrastructure.
Unfortunately the water systems do not enjoy the same resources. The federal dollars once invested to help build urban water infrastructure are no longer AND in fact, have been replaced with federal UNFUNDED mandates for improvements that most jurisdictions do not have the resources to implement.
We can no longer afford to defer maintenance on the system of treatments and pipes that serve our city and the region NOR can we avoid continue to delay implementation of unfunded federal mandates.
In spite of limited resources, Baltimore has already taken some difficult but necessary steps to upgrade metering and billing systems and has made adjustments to bring utility rates in line with the escalating cost of service, the need to have a proactive asset management strategy AND to begin meeting federal mandates.
While rate increases have been necessary, I also believe the policies and practices of the Baltimore City Water Utilities – water, sewer and stormwater — must be reviewed, updated and managed consistently. As a public utility we must ensure a balance between responsible collection of utility revenues and the protection of our most vulnerable citizens from the financial hardship of escalating utility rates, loss of essential serve and payment delinquencies that can result in tax sale foreclosure and loss of their homes. Ultimately, our most important job is to sustain the high quality and safety of our water treatment and to continue improving the business of how we deliver service. A public utility is accountable to the public in all ways AND must be committed to delivering essential service to all citizens – how we do both well will be the mark of our success.
Our goals should be:
· To guarantee full transparency in all aspects of our three utilities – drinking water, sewer and stormwater.
· To fully realize the customer service benefits of the investments being made in smart meters and the billing system.
· To bring our water systems into compliance with environmental mandates important to the long term health of our citizens and our waterways.
· To consider a more inclusive regional approach to governance of the utility which could include an advisory board of the Public Works Directors from our customer jurisdictions and transparency that would give the surrounding jurisdictions greater confidence in our management of the operations and assets.
· To advocate aggressively at the state and federal level for the investment needed to improve the utility infrastructure that more than 1.8 million Marylanders rely upon for their health and safety.
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?
There are many factors that contribute to changes in population. Long term, we not cannot stabilize and grow our population without dramatically reducing violent crime, improving the outcomes of our schools, and connecting residents with jobs that can support a family. In this document and others, I offer a plan for all three, but change will not occur overnight.
In a knowledge-based economy, businesses want to locate where their employees want to live. A livable city has safe and healthy neighborhoods, great schools, busy parks and recreation centers, vibrant Main Streets, cultural amenities, and an integrated public transportation system. We must continually invest in a better quality of life for our citizens in order to compete for jobs and businesses. As part of my plan for economic prosperity, my administration will focus on making sure Baltimoreans of all incomes have housing, transportation and other services they need, increasing their opportunity to take advantage of all our city has to offer.
There are actions we can take now to attract new residents to Baltimore. Between 2000 and 2009, which includes the years that I was Mayor, Baltimore's population of 25 to 34 year olds with a college degree increased by 92 percent within 3 miles of downtown. The increase was the fourth highest among the 51 metro areas in the study, which included Boston, Memphis and New York. Between 2010 and 2013, the city's population of older adults 55 and over grew by 8,000, including many new empty nesters drawn to the city's walkability and cultural amenities. Examples of actions that we will take:
· Baltimore City offers a vibrant, diverse and welcoming community for those new to the United States of America. We already have public schools populated by a student body that represents more than 30 different languages. Our teachers and students are as enriched as our communities are. Baltimore's goal of being the most pro-immigrant city in the United States will be achieved by: offering robust transition services and enhanced "ESOL" programs in schools and community centers; collaborating with our medical research and higher-education institutions to support job training and access; and working with the Federal government to establish immigration pilot programs in Baltimore.
· By far, the best long-term approach to retaining college graduates – minimizing the Brain Drain – are strategies that promote career growth in higher wage target industries, and lower cost housing with better amenities. In the shorter term, we should encourage universities to expand civic engagement and community service. Both have been shown to increase student retention and enhance student awareness of the career and graduate education opportunities that exist outside of the college "bubble." Businesses can provide job mentors for college seniors. As Mayor, I will explore partial loan forgiveness or repayment assistance for graduates who work for city government and live in the city.
· We will develop a plan to make Baltimore the most aging friend city in the country.