Officials hope Ehrlich smiles on the county

A new high school, funds for road construction are among area's needs

Harford County

January 19, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Del. Barry Glassman has already seen one major change in Annapolis this year. He flashed a wide smile and said: "For the first time, I can say `Hi' to the governor and he will say `Hi' back."

Glassman is a 40-year-old Republican who heads the Harford County legislative delegation. He is hopeful that his friendly, casual encounters with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., along with the fact that nearly 75 percent of the county's voters cast their ballots for the new governor, will help him in winning approval of items on the county's legislative wish list this year.

At the top of the list, Glassman said, is protecting local aid for school construction.

County Executive James M. Harkins agrees.

"Harford County needs a new school," he said. "And the state has indicated support for a new school. We'll be working hard to make sure we can build that school - and build it the right size."

Other items on the county's list include:

A major renovation of North Harford High School.

Continued funding for road construction.

Four-year degree programs at Harford Community College.

Changes in the state's Water Quality Improvement Act regulations to protect the county's small farms.

These things won't come easily, Glassman acknowledged. "We know that money is going to be short this year because of the budget shortfall. Cuts are likely to be so big that everyone will share in the burden."

The new school that Harkins is seeking will be the first new high school in the county in nearly 25 years. It is planned for a site near Route 924 and Patterson Mill Road, south of Bel Air .

Kathleen Sanner, supervisor of planning and construction, said the county hopes to build a middle school and high school complex designed to ease overcrowding at six other schools.

"We need planning approval from the state this year," she said. "We can't get construction approval without first getting planning approval."

The school complex is expected to cost $35 million. It will house 450 middle school pupils and 600 high school students. It will be designed so that it can be expanded to handle 1,400 students in the future.

The second school project, according to Sanner, involves a $45 million renovation of North Harford High School. "It will basically amount to a new building," she said.

The county is seeking $2.5 million in construction funds this year. If the money is approved, it will commit the state to funding the full project in later years, she explained. The project is expected to be completed in 2007.

If county lawmakers are successful, some of these high school graduates will be able to obtain their four-year baccalaureate degrees at Harford Community College.

"We are going to try again to get legislation to allow the community college to offer four-year degree programs," said Glassman. "This is not a money issue, it's a policy issue," he said, "and we think we have a good shot of doing it."

Claudia E. Chiesi, president of Harford Community College, said the change would benefit the entire county by helping students who want to stay close to home. "We don't have a four-year institution in the county," she said.

She said the college would like to offer degree programs for teachers, heath-care workers seeking to advance their careers and farmers needing technical training.

"We have a moral obligation to our community to pursue this," she said, noting that at any given time the county has a need for 100 to 200 additional teachers.

Glassman said Harford still has a large farm economy, and the delegation will be seeking to halt its loss of farms and farmland.

One way to do this is to alter regulations of the Water Quality Improvement Act, which were established to control the runoff of nutrients from farm fields.

The regulations apply to all farms with gross annual income of $2,500 or more. Glassman said he wants the minimum raised to $5,000.

Such a change, he said, would encourage some small farm operators to keep their land in farming rather than selling out to housing developers.

"Small farmers are complaining that the nutrient management regulations are making it difficult for them to be profitable," said Glassman. "We're trying to protect our rural heritage and maintain our farm economy. We're hopeful that the governor and the secretary of agriculture will take a look at this program."

Harford officials have been looking at the county's road systems and, in some cases, they don't like what they see.

As a result, the county will be seeking funding from the General Assembly to help correct several trouble spots.

They include improvement to the intersection of Route 715 and U.S. 40, near Aberdeen Proving Ground; the Route 24 and Interstate 95 interchange near Abingdon; and a sprucing up of the U.S. 40 corridor and Edgewood Road.

Most of these things have a price tag with them, Glassman conceded. "We are hoping that when the governor starts handing out the pain, we get a little less pain," he said.

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