The Harford County Council approved a number of school-related and other amendments to the fiscal 2014 county budget Tuesday night, including funding Sunday hours at the Jarrettsville library branch and new computers at a Bel Air school.
The council also gave its backing to provide county funding toward the Havre de Grace opera house renovation and upgrades to Aberdeen High School's football facilities.
Another amendment, narrowly approved, alters a previously approved funding mechanism for the controversial tax increment financing of a private mixed use residential and commercial development called James Run Corporate Campus southeast of Bel Air.
During its legislative session in Bel Air, the council also honored, former senator Joseph D. Tydings, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1965 to 1971.
Tydings, 85, was named a Harford Living Treasure by the council and received a proclamation.
Tydings, who grew up in Havre de Grace and now lives in Monkton, got a standing ovation from the audience. A lifelong Democrat who also once served in the state legislature, he called Harford a "unique" county because its legislators are not focused on partisan politics.
Libraries, school support
The Jarrettsville library branch is being added to three others that were approved for Sunday hours last year: Bel Air, Aberdeen and Abingdon.
Councilman Chad Shrodes, who represents the Jarrettsville area, said he knows the branch will be widely used on Sundays.
A group of parents and students from Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School in Bel Air applauded after the council passed an amendment giving them funding for four trays of 24 computers each.
"All the children in our county need the same advantage," Councilman Jim McMahan said, noting the parent-teacher association at the school has been fighting for the upgrade for several years but the funding was never available.
The school's parents had been particularly vocal about the need for more computers at their children's school during this year's budget process, both at the school system and the county levels.
Other capital budget amendments approved for the school system include a $1.7 million security initiative and about $1.6 million worth of upgrades to the Aberdeen High School stadium and weight room to "provide facilities similar to others in the county," according to the amendment's synopsis.
James Run debate
McMahan, Shrodes and Councilman Joe Woods voted against the James Run TIF amendment – an $8.4 million loan against future property taxes deal the council initially passed last year, over the objections of some residents who said the county shouldn't be aiding private developers.
Since the council first approved the deal, the development mix of the project – office, commercial and temporary/transient lodging – was altered to have more commercial and less office space, which had raised a red flag for the council members who did not want to continue with the deal.
Those members who backed the change, however, said it merely reflected the reality of a lower demand for office space in the Harford market than what had been anticipated from base realignment at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Opera House renovation
The council also debated providing county funding for the renovation of the Havre de Grace opera house, which is estimated to cost upward of $2.7 million.
Councilman Dion Guthrie said he had a problem with taking tax money supplied by residents from all over the county to help pay for what he believes it is a municipal project. The renovation is expected to be supported by a combination of city, county and state funds, plus foundation and other private grants and donations.
Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, who represents Havre de Grace, argued the opera house is a public arts center that attracts people from all over the county, and Boniface agreed.
"This is a partnership between the county, city and state that will benefit the entire county. This is the way it has always worked," the council president said.
Shrodes added that he has often gone to the opera house to watch his daughter and others perform.
"As a resident of Norrisville [in the opposite corner of the county from Havre de Grace], I want to say that one of the fondest memories I have is going down to the opera house," Shrodes said.
In a series of amendments approved by the council, a capital project for the opera house renovation was created with a budget of $750,000, of which $250,000 is to come from a recently approved state grant, $250,000 from the county's cash account – called paygo and $250,000 of "Other funding."