Harford council president defends vote against Havre de Grace land buy

Harford County Council President Billy Boniface on Tuesday defended his recent vote against buying property for a proposed waterfront park in Havre de Grace, explaining the council has already supported plenty of Havre de Grace projects.

The vote, taken a week earlier, was nearly unanimous against the purchase of parcels along Water Street. Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, whose group, Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, is behind the project, was alone in voting in support of it. Lisanti represents Havre de Grace on the county council.

During Tuesday night's legislative session in Bel Air, Boniface challenged accusations that the council does not support Havre de Grace.

"We have been able to support the county executive and [Lisanti] on several initiatives," he said, referring to County Executive David Craig, a Havre de Grace native and former mayor of the city.

Boniface said the council put aside funds to renovate the city's opera house and supported Susquehanna Hose Company's House 3 being remodeled.

The council also pushed back two other library projects so the Havre de Grace library could move forward on its planned expansion, he said.

Boniface said he also supported Craig in moving forward with the replacement of Havre de Grace High School, "all this while most other projects in the county are being put on hold while the facilities' master plan is being done."

Boniface noted that places like Darlington, where his family has a horse farm, have waited and waited for their piece of the budget pie.

He said shortly after he got elected to the council, the county bought a small plot of land in Darlington for a sports field.

"It's been seven years and we have yet to put a shovel in the ground," Boniface said, adding Darlington has a library in a trailer.

The county's future financial challenges will mean hard decisions will have to be made, he said. Boniface already announced he will step down from the council after his current term.

"We have a lot of challenges as a county ahead of us," the council president said. "I wish we could do every initiative that came before us. The one that came before us [on Water Street] was a good project but it had a lot of problems and the cost factor was growing to be considerate."

Councilman Jim McMahan also defended his vote against the project.

"It was a decision I didn't take lightly," he said, adding he lived in Havre de Grace for many years and loves the city. "I put in a lot of time."

Last week, Lisanti said afterward that she was extremely disappointed by the vote, although the water street project can still move forward without the council, although any purchase deal would have to be structured differently than the one the council rejected.

"I have never, in seven years on the council, seen a bill handled so poorly," she said. "It was very clear there was disdain for something."

Lisanti said attempts were made to keep residents from participating in the public comment period during the council hearing on the legislation and that there was very little time to consider the bill before the vote was taken, which is rare.

She pointed out Craig asked for the vote to be delayed, so an environmental appraisal could be done, but the council refused.

"Clearly, it's personal," she said. "I expected them to debate the issue, give me the opportunity to lay out the merits of the bill. There was no debate."

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