County delegation's ups and downs in Annapolis

One victory gives Harford more control over its solid-waste management plan

April 09, 2006|By TED SHELSBY | TED SHELSBY,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When the confetti drops on the General Assembly at midnight tomorrow, Del. Barry Glassman says he will breathe a sigh of relief and return to Harford County feeling some disappointment but mostly satisfaction with the delegation's accomplishments during the 90-day session.

"I'd say we did pretty well," the 44-year-old chairman of the eight-member Harford County delegation said Friday. "We're a small delegation, but we were able to chalk up some wins."

One victory was a bill giving the county more control over its solid-waste management plan.

Glassman concedes there have been losses, too, as bills died in committee and state funding - especially for school construction - fell far short of the delegation's request. County lawmakers went into the annual session seeking $15.3 million in school construction money.

"We got about $9 million," said Glassman. "We came up about $6 million short."

Another disappointment was a delegation bill that sought constitutional amendments to prevent counties, cities and towns from seizing private property through their powers of eminent domain for the benefit of private redevelopment projects.

This bill, which perished in committee, was designed to offset a Supreme Court decision last summer that allowed taking property.

"There is a statewide bill on this issue, but we didn't like it," Glassman said. "We tried to have Harford County exempted from the state bill, but we failed."

Glassman said a major difference between the delegation's bill and the state bill is that "the state bill said jurisdictions could not take agriculture ground for economic development, but you could take other property."

He said the state bill was held up in committee and was not likely to pass.

But Harford may yet get its way on this issue. Glassman said he has obtained an attorney general's opinion saying that the County Council can pass its own local eminent domain legislation.

"I will be sending a letter to [Council President Robert S. Wagner] next week, informing him of this opinion," said Glassman. "Maybe the council will consider a local bill."

The delegation achieved approval of a bill that gives counties more autonomy from the state in determining which landfills and trash-collection sites are included in its solid-waste management plans.

The "trash bill" stems from the Maryland Department of the Environment's rejection last summer of Harford's solid waste management plan because it excluded two trash sites.

One was the Spencer rubble landfill in Abingdon, one of the fastest-growing residential areas in the county. The second was the Gravel Hill Road landfill near Havre de Grace.

In the case of Spencer, the council argued that the landfill's permit had expired 13 years earlier and should not be renewed because many new homes had been built in the area.

"This bill will mark the first time that any Maryland county can remove a solid-waste landfill from its master plan," said Glassman.

Sen. J. Robert Hooper shepherded passage of a bill that exempts Harford farm buildings from a requirement to meet state building code standards when doing business with the public.

Another farm-related bill would give the County Council the authority to pass legislation providing tax credits to a farm owner's children who live on property adjacent to the farm and who work on the farm.

"The council would set the tax rate," said Glassman. "The bill only applies to farms in agriculture land preservation programs. We are looking for ways to keep young people in farming."

Despite falling short on the amount of school money sought, the county obtained funding for several construction projects, including:

$4.2 million for the continued renovation of North Harford High School.

$1.7 million for heating and air-conditioning work at North Harford Middle.

$1.1 million to replace the roofs at C. Milton Wright High and Dublin Elementary.

$2.1 million in state funding for the construction of the Patterson Mill middle and high school complex outside Bel Air.

The money will be a refund to the county, which is paying the full cost of the $59 million Patterson Mill project.

"We were a little disappointed," said Glassman. "We had asked for $8 million for Patterson Mill. But this payment from the state indicates that they feel the project is justified, and it could lead to additional state funding in the future."

The effort to secure school money was the source of contention late last month when Del. Susan K. McComas offered an amendment to add $6 million to Harford. She was rebuked by Glassman, who apologized to House leaders and said the request was out of line.

McComas, a Republican, said Harford's modest request had been overshadowed by other counties that "asked for the moon and the stars."

Glassman asked the House to vote down the amendment, saying the measure had not been brought to the county delegation first.

"The good delegate should've said `I' instead of `we,'" he told House leaders.

The legislature approved two county bond bills: $600,000 for improvement to the Citizen's Care and Rehabilitation Center in Havre de Grace, which opened in 1967 as Maryland's first nonprofit nursing home; and $500,000 to the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to help pay for seats at the Little League baseball field at the Ripken Stadium complex near Aberdeen.

The delegation also obtained a commitment from the state Department of Transportation to launch a comprehensive transportation study of what road improvements would need to be made to accommodate anticipated growth at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

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