Craig plans to increase public safety spending

In his first budget proposal, county executive also provides for more sheriff's deputies


Harford County Executive David R. Craig pledged to increase public safety spending and manpower at an event held Wednesday in the nerve center of the county's recent gang activity.

Flanked by the county's top police, fire and emergency service officials, Craig called the addition of about 50 sheriff's deputies, corrections officers and police support staff the "keystone" of a proposed $11 million increase in public safety spending next year.

"As Harford County continues to grow, we must ensure that we are able to maintain a level of safety and protection that citizens expect and deserve," he said in prepared remarks. "This budget is a positive step in that direction."

He called on the County Council - which can make changes to his budget request - to support the initiatives, a week after outlining an ambitious school construction plan.

Wednesday's event - part of a series of public appearances by Craig to promote his first budget as county executive - was held in front of the Harford Sheriff's Office southern precinct in Edgewood, a former 7-Eleven store that officials say is inadequate.

About 68 percent of the county's calls for police service originate from Harford's southern corridor.

A spate of gang violence in the area in recent years has proved particularly troublesome, and community members and leaders have called on the department to increase staffing.

An expansion and possible relocation of the precinct will not be a part of the budget. Instead it likely will have to be funded through alternative means.

"We intend to build a new southern precinct, no ifs ands or buts," said Sheriff R. Thomas Golding. "It'll take some work, but we can make it happen."

Golding praised Craig's budget, though it calls for about 10 fewer deputies than Golding's original request.

Craig has told Golding to adjust his three-year personnel plan, which would add 192 new positions to the Sheriff's Office by 2008.

About $920,000 has been earmarked to begin expansion of the county detention center.

The budget also includes $1.1 million to boost appropriations to the county's volunteer fire companies, which next week will begin adding paid firefighters.

Harford Fire and EMS Association President Thomas G. Schaech said the force will remain largely a volunteer one, though the county's growth has strained services in recent years.

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