A statewide bill enabling Maryland jurisdictions to set higher property tax rates for homes deemed as vacant and abandoned passed the 2024 General Assembly and now heads to Gov. Wes Moore’s desk for consideration.

The bill, sponsored by members of Baltimore’s Annapolis delegation, has been introduced every year since 2021. Its lens has expanded to include all jurisdictions in the state and gives the city and county governments the ability to set a new tax rate for vacant properties or lots.

The bill, supported by Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration as well as City Councilwoman Odette Ramos, the engineer of several city housing policies related to its surplus of vacant homes, would take effect June 1.

Ramos, meanwhile, appeared in Annapolis several other times this past session, including to oppose a bill from Moore’s administration that aimed to protect homeowners facing property tax sale due to unpaid water bills.

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The bill had been amended to include a measure that would enable homes not “legally” recognized as owner-occupied to be included in the tax sale list over unpaid water and sewer charges. Advocates, including Ramos, raised concerns about the bill having unintended consequences for renters and property heirs without titles.

The bill passed third reader but failed to advance all the way through. In a statement, Food & Water Watch Southern Region Director Jorge Aguilar credited community advocates for flagging the bill’s potential problems and preventing it from passing.

“We look forward to working with legislators next year to extend the same protections that Baltimore City families have to families across the state and ensure that no Marylander loses their home over water bills,” Aguilar said.

— Hallie Miller

Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed after it was struck by a large container ship early Tuesday morning, March 26, 2024. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

State website to help with bridge aftermath

The Moore-Miller administration launched a website this week to help Marylanders affected by the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse connect with financial and informational resources

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The website lists cash assistance links for unemployed workers and small businesses and vital traffic updates for commuters. There’s also a list of locations where business owners can get in-person help.

The administration wanted to make finding help as simple as possible for people looking for critical information.

“I am committed to making sure those who are impacted know how to get the supports they need while we reopen the channel and get the Port fully operational,” Moore said in a statement.

The website will be updated as more local, state and federal programs become available, the statement said.

Brenda Wintrode

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More money for port workers

Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration is allocating $500,000 in financial assistance for people whose jobs have been affected by the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

The money can be used for rental assistance, the administration said this week, complementing additional relief funding made available to workers in need of water and energy bill support.

The administration published an action plan outlining the steps taken to provide resources to those impacted by last month’s tragedy, including the families of the six construction workers who died when the bridge fell. The resources include connecting the victims’ families with social workers; providing subsidies to small businesses that keep workers on payrolls; and direct philanthropic support to the victims’ families.

A new survey from The Baltimore Banner and Goucher College Poll published this week found that a majority of Baltimore voters approve of Maryland elected officials’ response to the bridge collapse, including from the mayor and Gov. Wes Moore. More than 60% also approve of President Joe Biden’s response, the poll found.

— Hallie Miller

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