It’s that time of the primary season: Political campaigns are sharing their internal polls, thinking their numbers may inspire confidence from voters and donors.

A disclaimer: internal polls are usually conducted with the intent of gaining useful campaign insights for the candidate underwriting them and portions of those polls are often less than neutral.

But a poll conducted by Sheila Dixon’s campaign offers some broad insights into the race, suggesting the Democratic mayoral primary is a statistical dead heat, with relatively few undecided voters.

Between Feb. 24 and 26, pollsters from Garin-Hart-Yang called a representative sample of 400 registered Democrats likely to vote in the city primary and asked who they would choose if the election were held today.

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Their findings suggest that Dixon and Mayor Brandon Scott are within striking distance of each other. Dixon got 40% of support from those polled, while Scott received 37%. The margin of error is 5 percentage points.

Thiru Vignarajah netted 10%, while Bob Wallace received 6%. About 8% remain undecided.

A September survey from The Baltimore Banner and Goucher College Poll found nearly a quarter of respondents wanted a candidate other than Scott or Dixon and an additional 8% were undecided.

— Emily Sullivan

Vacant housing tax advances in legislature

A state bill that would allow jurisdictions in Maryland to raise property taxes on vacant and abandoned properties advanced in the General Assembly this week, putting it on track toward passage this spring.

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The proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Antonio Hayes and by state Dels. Regina Boyce, Luke Clippinger, Frank M. Conaway Jr. and Robbyn Lewis, all Baltimore Democrats, has been eyed for years as a potential tool to use against the city’s surplus of blighted homes. It has won support this year from a broad coalition that includes Mayor Brandon Scott.

If it passes and becomes law, the proposal would enable the mayor and Baltimore City Council — or the governing body of any other county, according to a new amendment — to set a special tax rate for vacant and abandoned homes. Previous versions of the proposal sought not just to raise taxes on delinquent property owners, but also to lower rates for owner-occupied households. The latest version of the bill narrows the scope.

City Councilwoman Odette Ramos, the engineer behind a new legal tool that allows the city to foreclose and take control of properties if the value of its liens exceeds the property’s, has testified in support of the measure, saying it could help Baltimore seize even more properties before transferring them to new, responsible stewards.

The city estimates its combined possession of vacant lots and structures at around 35,000.

— Hallie Miller

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Advocates want more from Mayor Scott ahead of this year’s tax sale

Mayor Brandon Scott signaled Friday that he may once again remove owner-occupied households from the city’s annual tax sale, a move cheered on by housing advocates who have lobbied the mayor to exclude all occupied homes from the list each year since he took office.

A spokesperson for the mayor, in response to questions from The Banner, noted that Scott “has a clear record” of protecting owner-occupied households during his tenure. Spokesman Bryan Doherty said in an email that a related announcement would come over the next few weeks.

Doherty also said that the city’s mayor-controlled spending board would be asked to approve this coming week a new tax payment system that would ideally streamline the payment process for city taxpayers.

The mayor-controlled spending board will be asked to consider a contract with Revenue Solutions Inc., which has a more-than $11 million contract with Baltimore County. If approved, the city would enter into a cooperative agreement with the contractor to provide software services, according to next week’s Board of Estimates’ agenda.

But advocates from the city’s tax sale work group, which has formed to make recommendations to the mayor pertaining to the city’s annual tax sale, want the mayor to go a step further.

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In a letter sent to Scott in February, representatives from the work group — which includes Fight Blight Bmore founder Nneka N’namdi and attorneys from the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland and Community Law Center — asked the Scott administration to implement a payment plan option for homeowners in arrears. Their clients frequently have difficulty paying off large lump sums at once, they wrote, and often need additional time and assistance to do so. They noted that 7,600 homeowners could lose their homes due to tax sale this year.

“The City Council long ago passed legislation to enable payment plans for prospective tax bills; the Board of Estimates just needs to vote to approve payment plans for taxes in arrears,” the advocates said in the letter.

State lawmakers are considering legislation in the Maryland General Assembly this year that would enable some property heirs to enter into payment plans to avoid losing their homes due to tax sale. State Del. Vanessa Atterbeary’s bill advanced out of the House of Delegates last month.

— Hallie Miller

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