Area fared well in Annapolis, legislator says

County due 4.5% increase overall in state funding

Schools' share to rise 8.2%

Projects at North Harford, Edgewood Middle OK'd

Harford County

April 13, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

It may be of little comfort to County Executive James M. Harkins as he contemplates possible layoffs, but Harford County fared much better than the majority of other state jurisdictions in the budget battle that dominated this year's legislative session.

"At first blush, it looks like we did fairly well," said Del. Barry Glassman, a Republican who serves as chairman of the county's legislative delegation. "We had a 4.5 percent increase in funding from the state overall, and education spending was up 8.2 percent.

"Harford County did a lot better than a lot of other counties," Glassman said as he looked at a funding chart of the budget as approved by lawmakers last week.

Measured in terms of the percentage increase over last year's funding, Harford finished ahead of Baltimore City and 15 other counties.

There are strong hints that the county could also pick up a bit more state funding in the weeks ahead for a project that ranks high on the school system's priority list - construction of a Science and Mathematics Academy at Aberdeen High School.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to announced in the next week or two that he will authorize $975,000 from discretionary funds for the academy, according to legislative sources.

"I think that the funding for the Aberdeen project is pretty much a given," said Glassman.

Sen. Nancy C. Jacobs, a Harford County Republican, said only that the governor is expected to announce some "good news" related to "school construction money, sometime in the next couple of weeks."

The school system recently picked up $695,450 in federal funding to be used to purchase equipment for the academy. The county has set aside about $600,000 for the project. State funding is needed before construction can begin.

The academy will serve as a magnet school drawing top science and math students from all over the county. Through its link to Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Army's ordnance research and development center, students and teachers at the academy will be working with the top scientists and technicians in the region.

In other school-related developments, lawmakers approved $2 million for the start of construction of a $44 million renovation to North Harford High School, according to Donald R. Morrison, a spokesman for the school system.

School officials are excited because the first installment of construction money usually leads to the rest of the money in succeeding years, he said.

Morrison said the legislature also approved $1.8 million for heating and air conditioning work at Edgewood Middle School. The work is expected to correct a mold problem at the school.

The school system failed to win planning approval for a new middle/high school in the Bel Air area.

Glassman said that Harford Community College got a 1.4 percent increase in state funding, but the lawmakers turned down its request for a limited number of four-year baccalaureate degree programs aimed at students who find it difficult to leave the county to further their education.

Although it killed the community college bill, Glassman said the House Ways and Means Committee put pressure on the University System of Maryland to address the need for four-year programs at HCC. "The committee said it doesn't want to see them back next year; it wants this matter resolved."

Glassman warned that the county still faces the possibility of more funding cuts in the weeks ahead.

He noted that Ehrlich is considering vetoing budget-balancing legislation that includes a 2 percent tax on health maintenance organization policies and a 10 percent corporate income tax surcharge.

"If these options play out," Glassman said, "the funding numbers may not be as rosy."

Glassman said that state funding for public safety (police and fire protection) was cut 2.4 percent. The Health Department received no additional money.

He said transportation funding cuts of 27 percent, or by $3.5 million, threaten planned improvements to the Route 24-Interstate 95 interchange, which is considered one of the most dangerous sections of road in the county.

Jacobs said that legislation was approved to bring more national chain restaurants to Aberdeen and Edgewood. The bill allows restaurants that already have liquor licenses in Bel Air, such as Chili's Grill & Bar and Applebee's, to open a second outlet in Aberdeen or Edgewood.

She said the General Assembly also passed "a controversial bill that would prohibit people from selling flowers or collecting money along state roads in the county."

The lawmakers noted other General Assembly actions affecting the county, including:

Passing a bill to speed up the police inspection required before cars and trucks that have been rebuilt after accidents can be sold. "The process now takes two to three months," said Glassman. "This should cut that time to two or three weeks."

Rejecting a proposal by Harkins for the creation of special tax districts in the county where an additional tax on new homes would be used to help finance road construction and other infrastructure improvement in the neighborhood. "We needed more information on this," said Glassman. "It will go to summer study."

A bill that will allow the Sheriff's Office to sell abandoned property, such as cars, trucks, bicycles and all-terrain vehicles, after holding them in storage for six months, instead of waiting a year.

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