New office stripped from budget

Harford council also cuts funding for a rewrite of the zoning code


Continuing what has been a divisive process, the Harford County Council yesterday stripped the nearly half-million-dollar budget of a newly created administrative office as well as funding for a rewrite of the zoning code from County Executive David R. Craig's proposed budget for next year.

Craig created the Office of the Chief of Staff through an executive order this year to work directly with the citizens of Edgewood and the agricultural community. But the council, with four of seven members present, decided yesterday to strip out the office's entire $461,800 budget, including the salaries of its three employees.

"They've left the farming community out in the cold and told Edgewood that they don't need a connection to the executive," said Chief of Staff Aaron N. Tomarchio, whose position Craig will now have to find creative ways to fund.

Craig said that about $200,000 of the office's budget was being moved from the Office of Economic Development, along with the agriculture liaison, an existing position which would have become more prominent. The liaison position would have received a $20,000 salary increase.

In introducing the amendment, Council President Robert S. Wagner, like Craig a Republican, said that he felt the administration was being ambiguous about its plans for the department and that the funding increases represented a "growing of government."

Community leaders from Edgewood, a town of 23,000 grappling with gang violence and redevelopment issues, said they were disappointed with the council's decision. Debora Merlock, president of the Greater Edgewood Education Foundation, said Tomarchio had helped jumpstart numerous initiatives there.

"Without the person that has made that happen, I don't know what the council thinks will keep that momentum going," she said.

Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, a Democrat whose district includes Edgewood, voted for the amendment that cut the position. But he said, "They'll find the money - he's [Tomarchio] not going anywhere."

In another amendment to the $740 million proposed budget yesterday, the council also removed $25,000 for a rewrite of the county zoning code. Craig has sought an overhaul of the code since the countywide comprehensive rezoning process was shelved in March. Hundreds of property owners have been unable to move forward on development projects.

The council is to vote on the budget tonight. Complications from the council having four members present could result in Craig losing his veto authority over amendments introduced yesterday.

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