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Cost to use Harford County property sparks estimates board mini-debate

How much should the county government charge for use of its property by outsiders became a sub-theme at the most recent Harford County Board of Estimates meeting.

Before the board at its Feb. 7 session in Bel Air was a lease for one-day use of part of the large county parking lot at the corner of Main Street and Churchville Road on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, by the neighboring Dark Horse Saloon for its annual outdoor tent celebration.

The negotiated rate for the lease is $1,000, which prompted County Councilman Jim McMahan to ask how the rental rate was set.

Erin Schafer of the Procurement Department said that's what Dark Horse has been paying each year when it uses the lot, but McMahan, who was subbing at the meeting for Council President Billy Boniface, thought the price was too low.

"They're [Dark Horse] going to make a lot of money that day," he said.

Harford County Executive David Craig, who chairs the board, disagreed.

"The government shouldn't take everybody's money," Craig said. McMahan, however, wasn't satisfied and voted against the lease. Craig and the other five members voted for it.

Next up on the agenda was renewal of a lease for a 400-square-foot office in the county-owned 18 Office St. building in Bel Air, used by the Harford County Bar Foundation.

"This isn't the saloon foundation," Craig quipped, as Schafer explained the lease is for $3,600 a year with one-year automatic renewals.

Though Craig's attempt at levity seemed to go over McMahan's head at first, the councilman was satisfied with Schafer's explanation that the bar foundation - the lawyers kind of bar - is a non-profit and doesn't receive other money from the county.

The bar foundation provides a referral service to local low-income families who need civil legal services but can't afford to hire a lawyer or who can't pay typical rates charged by lawyers. A number of lawyers in Harford involve themselves with the foundation and provide free, or pro bono, representation in family law, housing, bankruptcy, consumer, foreclosure and estates and trust, according to the organization's website.

This time McMahan joined the rest of the board in voting for the lease.

Later in the same session, the board was asked to approve the use of the same Main and Churchville parking lot for another Ravens rally planned for the following afternoon, sponsored by the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, another non-profit, which was getting use of the property for no charge. Proceeds from the rally were to be donated to the Brigance Brigade Foundation to fight ALS.

"I still think we should charge them," Procurement Director Deborah Henderson said, although she and the rest of the board voted to approve the agreement.

The rally, however, was moved inside the neighboring Dark House because of the prospect of rain, and the lot was never used.

There was a pre-Super Bowl Ravens rally on the same lot a week earlier, but because the county was a co-sponsor, no board of estimates approval was required.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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