Mayor Touts Reforms to Reduce Tax Errors

Oct 7, 2013

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake with city finance officials announcing reforms to reduce tax credit errors. Rawlings-Blake said the errors has caused a lack of confidence in a basic function of government
Credit P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

Baltimore City officials announced Monday reforms to reduce tax credit errors that resulted in the loss of more than $2 million to city coffers.

The announcement came hours before a city council meeting where Councilman Carl Stokes was to introduce resolutions calling for an audit of the tax programs and for the finance department to consider privatizing tax calculations and collection.

The errors reported by The Baltimore Sun resulted in many property owners being under charged by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mayor Rawlings-Blake said that has caused a lack of confidence in a basic function of government.  “I share those frustrations and I realize how upsetting that these errors can be,” she said, “I believe the reforms that we are announcing today will go a long way towards building the public’s confidence in our ability to provide correct tax bills.”

City Finance Director Harry Black announced that his department has taken over calculation duties from the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, where the errors were made. In addition, he said, his department is developing an automated process to reduce the potential for human errors.

Black blamed the errors on a lack of communication among a number of agencies involved in the manual process. He said he plans to “eliminate as many hands as possible by introducing automation.”

The mayor says that the reforms put in place by her administration should be given a chance to work before dealing with Stokes’ resolution.

Comptroller Joan Pratt said about four city departments will be audited in 2014, regardless of the fate of the resolutions.

Robert McCarty, the city auditor, said they are still deciding how to pick the departments for both a fiscal and a performance audit.

Pratt said she wants “high-risk” agencies audited first, though she didn’t say what they are.

“It will have the city operate more effectively and efficiently and it would be more beneficial to the citizens,” she said.

Stokes said the resolutions are not a fight over past mistakes; noting that the problem has been around for a while.

“We’ve been requesting and we’ve been requesting transparency and the media and citizens have been saying for all of my three and a half years back, something’s wrong,” said Stokes.  He said he wants to fix the mistakes in time for the next billing cycle in July 2014.

Stokes said a hearing on the resolutions will happen in November where he hopes to hear more about the reforms put in place by the Rawlings-Blake Administration.