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Editorial: Harford's County executive priority list a formidable one

David Craig may not accomplish all the goals he has for his final two years as county executive, but if he finishes the term, he will have made county history as the longest serving county executive.

Ever the historian, Craig, whose professional career in education began as a history teacher, pointed out around the time he was elected county executive for a second time that he had the potential to become the person to hold the job longer than anyone else to date. The reason is simple: Initially, he was appointed to fill out the term vacated by his predecessor Jim Harkins, who resigned midway through his second term to take a high-paying state job.

Thus, Craig had about two years on the job before being elected in his own right to serve as county executive. He was then elected a second time two years ago. The county charter limits county executives to two terms.

As historic achievements go, though, time served isn't what makes for an administration of historic import. It is likely with this in mind that Craig outlined his priorities for the next two years, priorities that largely focus on fairly substantial infrastructure projects.

Rebuilding aging schools, a process begun prior to Craig's taking office, is something that has continued during his tenure, and it has become clear a major re-working of his alma mater, Havre de Grace High School, is a key priority for the next two years. He has also thrown his support behind rebuilding projects for William Paca – Old Post Road and Youth's Benefit elementary schools.

Other priorities he has identified fall into the category of government nuts and bolts. They are mundane when they work, but vital, as evidenced when they don't work.

One is the county's garbage management plan, more frequently referred to as its solid waste management plan. The updated plan calls for a county trash transfer station in Joppa, an option a lot of people in Joppa think won't work. Regardless of the look of the final plan, something needs to be done because the county landfill at Scarboro is filling up and the Army plans to eliminate the waste to energy trash incinerator that has been consuming most of the county garbage for the past 25 years.

Another key nuts and bolts project Craig said he plans to tackle is something he's been talking about for years: consolidating the county's disjointed public water systems. Aberdeen and Havre de Grace have their own water treatment operations (Aberdeen actually owns two, its own and a separate one for the Aberdeen Area of APG). Bel Air and some surrounding communities get water from the private Maryland American water company. Much of the balance of the county that's on public water is supplied through the county's Abingdon filtration plant, which draws mostly from the Baltimore City supply at Loch Raven Reservoir, but also can draw from the Susquehanna River. Then there's the Edgewood Area of APG, which has a separate water treatment plant drawing from the same source as Bel Air's Maryland American, tiny Winters Run.

There's plenty of water, but not necessarily where it's needed. Aberdeen and Bel Air, and to a lesser degree both areas of APG, are especially susceptible to drought. Meanwhile, the county and Havre de Grace have the ability to tap the Susquehanna, which means even in bad droughts, water is available. Consolidation under a single system could mean an overall savings resulting from a need for fewer filtration plants, but there are plenty of other issues at play ranging from local control over development (which is closely linked to availability of public water) to who will pay off the debts that financed the various water plants.

There's also the matter of getting the county's volunteer fire and ambulance service into a state in which it is both highly reliable and funded at a rational level. Once strictly volunteer, the independent system has experimented with various partially paid models, including one that relies to some degree on county financing. To date, the paid models have proven hard to manage, even as the all-volunteer system long ago exceeded its ability to provide adequate service.

The trick will be getting a system in place that takes advantage of the many components of the volunteer fire and ambulance service that remain viable while taking over only what is necessary on the ambulance side of the operation. Failing to strike a balance is likely to put the full responsibility for the ambulance service in the county's lap for good.

The challenges Craig has chosen are formidable, and they're not the kinds of things people celebrate when they're accomplished. Getting them resolved – or even on the road to resolution – in the next two years, however, will leave the county on solid footing.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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