County readies list of `wishes'

2 new high schools, road fixes to head officials' requests for state funding in '06


Motorists would have an extra lane to zoom along the Bel Air bypass, students would have two new high schools and the state would have less say in Harford County's landfill plans.

These are just a few of the proposals county leaders want to see on the table when lawmakers gather in Annapolis in January for the start of the 2006 session of the General Assembly.

Other initiatives to be considered during the 90-day session that could affect Harford include a measure that would make it easier for restaurant chains to open new outlets and one to increase homeowners' protection from local governments' taking their homes to clear the way for commercial development.

"We will be looking at a number of bills that could affect just about every person in the county," said Del. Barry Glassman, a Republican who is chairman of the county's legislative delegation. "Money will be the primary focus."

In his "wish list," submitted to the delegation recently, County Executive David R. Craig is seeking $60 million in state funding for the replacement of Bel Air and Edgewood high schools, two of the oldest and most dilapidated schools in the county.

"We would like to build them at the same time and use the same design," said Aaron Tomarchio, Craig's chief of staff. "If they are done together, it would save time and money."

The hope is to obtain planning money in this year's budget and begin construction in two years, he said.

The county broke ground this past summer on the $59 million Patterson Mill Middle and High School complex near Bel Air. The county is paying the cost of the project, including half that normally is paid by the state.

"We are going to try to get our down payment of $8.4 million for Patterson Mill from the state, and if successful, this money would be rolled into the new high schools," said Glassman.

County Council President Robert S. Wagner continues to ask the General Assembly for the authority to impose additional taxes and fees to help pay for school construction.

"We would like to have all those things we talked about in the past," Wagner said, referring to the council's previous request for approval to increase the transfer tax on the sale of homes, impose a building excise tax and repeal the $30,000 exemption under the transfer tax for an owner-occupied residence.

"There is going to be a great demand for new schools with several thousand new jobs coming to Aberdeen Proving Ground as a result of BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure Commission]," said Wagner. "There is no guarantee that we are going to get money from the state for these schools."

Road improvements also are high on Craig's list. He wants the Bel Air bypass to be a dual-lane highway from one end to the other.

"This is high on our priority list," said Glassman. "We have been asking for money for this the past four years." But he offered little hope that 2006 would be the magic year.

The county wants funding to continue improvements to the intersection of Interstate 95 and routes 24 and 924 near Abingdon. It is the most congested and accident-prone intersection in the county. According to the State Highway Administration, there are 21 percent more accidents at that interchange than at any similar interchange statewide.

With an eye on reducing the long wait to get a table at restaurants in the county, Glassman said a bill would be submitted to allow franchise restaurants - such as Ruby Tuesday, Outback Steakhouse and Applebee's - to open outlets anywhere in the county development envelope, the area designated for growth. At present, he said, county approval of a new outlet is limited to the U.S. 40 corridor from the county line north to Aberdeen.

Like other county residents, Glassman says, he has stood in long lines in front of restaurants waiting to get a table.

Where the county disposes of its trash is the subject of a bill to be introduced by Glassman with the support of 50 or 60 of his colleagues in the House of Delegates.

Glassman said the bill would give the county "more autonomy, more independence from the state," in determining which landfills and trash-collection sites are included in its solid-waste-management plans.

The proposal stems from the Maryland Department of the Environment's rejection in July of Harford's plan because it excluded two trash sites. One was the Spencer rubble landfill in Abingdon, one of the fastest-growing residential areas of the county. The second was the Gravel Hill Road landfill near Havre de Grace.

"It will be a statewide bill," said Glassman. "We don't live in a vacuum. If it's happening in Harford County, it is probably happening in other counties."

Other funding proposals include $25 million for the expansion of the county detention center, $42 million for expansion of a water treatment plant and $72 million for expansion of a waste-to-energy plant that burns trash to generate steam supplied to Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Glassman said several bills would be introduced seeking constitutional amendments to prevent counties, cities or towns from seizing private property through their powers of eminent domain for the benefit of private redevelopment projects. The bill would seek to offset a controversial Supreme Court decision this past summer that allowed the taking of such property.

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