Baltimore enrolls in federal program for COVID-19 reimbursement

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Photo by Wally Gobetz, via Flickr

Baltimore City on Wednesday officially enrolled in a federal program offering reimbursement to local governments for money spent responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initiative, part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, provides up to $103 million for local governments to cover costs directly related to battling the virus, such as ordering personal protective equipment, distributing food, transporting supplies, buying cleaning products and similar expenses, Henry Raymond, director of the Department of Finance, said.

But it cannot be used to make up for lost revenue, Raymond said, something city officials have said is desperately needed for local jurisdictions across the country.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young renewed his call for such aid, saying he emphasized the point during a recent conversation with Maryland’s Congressional delegation.

“I stressed to our members the need for greater flexibility as Congress considers additional stimulus legislation,” he said at a press conference today outside City Hall. “In Baltimore, we’ve seen our source of revenue slow to a trickle.”

Earlier this month, as Budget Director Robert Cenname was due to present a budget for the next fiscal year, officials announced the city is due to lose $68.7 million because of the pandemic, resulting in a $42.3 million shortfall.

With the loss of taxes and fees associated with tourism and the convention business, as well as the money collected from parking fines, city-owned parking garages and traffic cameras, revenue is projected to be off by $103 million in the next fiscal year, which starts in July.

In anticipation of these declines, Young on March 20 instituted a freeze on new hiring and non-essential spending. The freeze does not apply to positions for police officers, paramedics, firefighters, EMTs, sheriff’s deputies and other essential personnel in the city’s response to the virus.

On March 24, the city suspended parking enforcement and meter fees to protect municipal workers.

Young announced today the city is suspending its annual tax sale to collect unpaid taxes, which was originally scheduled for May 18. The process auctions off liens to the highest bidder, who can then collect the money, plus interest, from a property owner.

If the money goes unpaid, the bidder can eventually seize control of a property. According to research from the Maryland Center on Economic Policy, the city generates between $5 million to $6 million from the tax sale.

The publication of eligible address will now take place on May 13. Final notice to property owners will be mailed on June 1, after which they will have 30 days to reduce their lien balance to avoid the sale.

The tax sale is now scheduled for July 20.

Brandon Weigel

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