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Councilmania

On the agenda for April 30

12-0067 Ordinance of Estimates for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2013. Summary proposed budget with expenditures by department.

The Read: Budget season is in full swing. The mayor plans to close a few rec centers (part of a long-term rationalization) and three fire companies. What gets more money? Well, more cops are touted. And the mayor’s “innovation fund,” launched last year with $1 million, is funded at a proposed $2 million this year. The idea is to give start-up money to projects that will increase government efficiency and save money in the future. So far the fund has helped modernize environmental health and has funded a process to automate plans review at the housing department. As the administration says on its Innovation Fund web site: “Transitioning to e-Plans will decrease turnaround time to complete plans review by at least 20% on all projects; increase customer-satisfaction because developers will no longer have to print costly plans to submit on paper for review; and decrease annual operating costs by $54,000.”

12-0045R Request for State Action—Special General Assembly Session to Avoid the ‘Doomsday Budget.’ Asks Gov. Martin O’Malley to convene a special session of the legislature (which he is widely expected to do) to pass a state budget that avoids big automatic budget cuts.

The Read: Budget season is silly season. The legislature retired a coupla weeks back without passing a budget, triggering the specter of “doom.” The current budget (which no one expects will be real) would slice about $100 million in state aid from Baltimore City, including its school budget. Not gonna happen, but oooh, scary!

12-0069 Real Estate Transactions—Disclosure of Heavy-Industrial and Railroad Operations. Would require sellers of real estate to tell prospective buyers about “the possibility of nearby heavy-industrial and railroad operations.”

The Read: This is an administration bill introduced at the request of the planning department. The bill itself references the city’s Cityview web site (cityview.baltimorecity.gov), saying that “detailed information on the location of heavy-industrial (M-3) zones and the location of railroad tracks can be found” there. We took a look and came up empty. No references there to zoning or easily accessible maps of heavy-industrial areas (though “business incentive zones” are allegedly available, but those didn’t work for us either). Still, a fun site on which to waste time. The aerial map dates from 2011.

12-0073 Taxes—Outdoor Advertising Excise Tax. Would impose a tax of $5 or $15 dollars per square foot on outdoor advertising signs larger than 15 square feet.

The Read: Councilmember Bill Henry (D-4th District) introduced this bill by referencing a similar bill that failed two years ago: “As I said then, we look high and low for new revenue in times like these, and when we look high, we see billboards.” The ordinance itself claims that billboards are a public nuisance that distract drivers, and would impose a $15-per-foot tax on the electronic types that change images “more than once per day,” while imposing a $5-per-foot tax on static displays. The bill exempts government displays but, curiously, does not exempt political advertising.

12-0074 Urban Renewal—Waverly Business Area—Amendment. Would put the former restaurant at 3313 Greenmount Ave. on the city’s condemnation/eminent domain list.

The Read: Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District) introduced this bill, saying Waverly Main Street has lately been “abuzz with positive activity” and that the former Uncle Lee’s restaurant at 33rd and Greenmount was once a great place, but that it’s “now leaking and creaking” so much that a prospective tenant told her he could not afford to lease the building to make a movie house out of it. A mural on the building painted two years ago by City Paper contributor Tom Chalkley is deteriorating because of the building’s poor maintenance, Clarke says, “so for art’s sake we want to get that building in our hands.”

Chalkley had this to say: “I hope it’s not just a symbolic effort. Maybe it’ll be enough to get Uncle Lee’s off their butt.” A woman at Uncle Lee’s on South Street said that Henry Lee (the owner of record) was on vacation and not available to comment. She sounded surprised to hear that the city is interested in taking the family’s old building.

The next city council meeting will be held Monday May 14 at 5 p.m.

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