Harford County government has finalized its hiring of a  Washington, D.C., lobbying firm to represent the county's interests on Capitol Hill and in the halls of federal agencies.

A consultant with Duane Morris Government Strategies will keep the county on the pulse of what happening in Washington, especially when it comes to transportation issues and a possible BRAC in 2015.

The Harford County Board of Estimates approved a contract for $125,000 with the firm during the board's March 22 meeting in Bel Air, but not without some complaining from the head of the county's legislative branch.

According to the firm's scope of services provided to the board of estimates, "Harford County Government will be serviced by team members with in-depth policy backgrounds in appropriations, transportation, defense, intelligence and homeland security matters."

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The firm notes that they "will also represent Harford County's interests before federal agencies and other federal officials and administrators and will contact and communicate with those agencies and officers as needed or directed by the county executive."

Executive Chief of Staff Aaron Tomarchio explained that Duane Morris had previously worked on BRAC activities nationwide, including the recent base realignment moves affecting Aberdeen Proving Ground.

County Council President Billy Boniface asked Tomarchio why the contract wasn't put out for bid.

Tomarchio responded that the company was "uniquely qualified" because they are so familiar with APG and they have valuable government connections.

Boniface, however, said the county couldn't be sure of the supposed uniqueness of the firm's qualifications unless the contract were bid out.

"Each of these agencies within the county could benefit and will benefit," Tomarchio said, referring to the department of public works and community services and other county government entities.

Boniface wasn't convinced.

County Executive David Craig commented that many connections between the county and the federal government are lost because Harford's congressional representatives are either focused on statewide issues or don't serve on the right committees.

"Someone working at the federal level [and not an elected official] is much more beneficial," Craig said.

The county executive gave the example of the Harford legislative delegation in Annapolis. Craig noted that he had asked for the delegates and state senators help with different issues, such as the hotel room tax, but didn't receive assistance.

Public Works Director Bob Cooper said when funding comes in for APG and BRAC, that money "typically stays behind the [APG] fence." He then asked Tomarchio to have the consulting firm look at federal funding for road improvements around the installation.

Craig agreed, saying the county wasn't "getting much help from the state, either" in regards to roadwork.

Although Boniface made an amendment, which passed, to have the contract be for only one year instead of including automatic renewals, he did not vote in favor of the contract.

Wheel Road improvements

Resurfacing and other upgrades on a six-tenths of a mile segment of Wheel Road in Abingdon will cost the county almost $2 million.

The estimates board approved the contract for $1,946,688 to Comer Construction, of Forest Hill, the lowest proposal out of eight bids the county received.