Some say it is taxation without illumination.
The City of Glenarden in Prince George's County wants residents of the Barlowe Ridge community to pay for lights in the common areas of their town-house neighborhood. Problem is, some residents thought they were already paying for their street lights with the $62 tax they pay the city each year for lights.
The controversy has erupted into a major battle, pitting neighborhood against neighborhood as Barlowe Ridge residents complain that their tax dollars are being used to pay for lights somewhere else in the 0.8-square-mile city, not in their subdivision of 200 homes.
The City Council is scheduled to announce today whether it will pay for the lights in Barlowe Ridge, or will continue to try to make residents pay. No one can say for sure just how much money the Barlowe Ridge neighborhood would have to pay beyond the $62 annual tax.
The community of mostly working-class cottages and center-hall colonials with well-tended lawns straddles the Capital Beltway next to Landover. It was incorporated in 1939, and in the 1960s, it became a community where African Americans seeking suburban solace flocked. According to the 1990 census, Glenarden's population included 4,846 blacks, 88 Asian Americans, 68 whites, seven American Indians and 16 people who identified themselves as "other race." The median household income was $40,343.
The fight over light began last year when Mayor Donjuan Williams decided to change the billing system and make residents pay for the common area street lights in the Frost and Glenarden Woods subdivisions, part of Barlowe Ridge. That was the opposite of what Marvin F. Wilson, now on the Prince George's County Council, had done when he was mayor.
Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., which installed additional street lights on streets inside Barlowe Ridge at the city's behest, continued to bill the city until the city told BGE to bill the residents. Some paid. Others did not. People got more stirred up after the mayor hired a collection agency to dun some residents who refused to pay, Wilson said.
To add to the confusion, Brenda Pettigrew, a BGE spokeswoman, said this week there is no record of anyone owing BGE money for lights in Barlowe Ridge.
Not since the early 1990s, when there was a fight over a special tax, has the city been in such an uproar, said Iris McConnell, a former council member and local historian.
The street light fight has taken too long for the council to resolve, she said, "par for anything that goes on here."
"We're just hoping to get this over with, finally. It's been over a year," said Alice Howard, a resident of the Frost subdivision.
One city official, who asked to remain anonymous said, "Peace pacts have been negotiated sooner. Enough is enough, already. We're talking about street lights, not a cure for a disease."
City officials, including Brenda Leake, the city clerk, and several council members were reluctant to speak about the light fight.
Mayor Donjuan Williams and council President Louis Vaughn did not return several calls.
City Council member Rubin J. Reid, reached at home, wouldn't talk.
"I have no comment at this time," Reid said, "but I certainly thank you for calling."
Karen Standifer, elected to the council in May, said she didn't feel right discussing an issue that began before she got on the council.
"The main objective is . . . to come to an amicable solution for everybody," she said.
Wilson, the former mayor, said the city should either pay for the street lights, as they did when he was mayor, or give the residents credit for part of the $62 tax.
McConnell worries that so much energy is being focused on lighting that other issues aren't being addressed by city officials.
"The issue was who was paying the bill all along and why whoever was paying it will not continue paying the bill," McConnell said. "The meeting always gets a little warm before you get to that point."