Harford County Executive David Craig reaffirmed Wednesday the county's commitment to Edgewood, a community that has struggled over the years with a reputation for crime and poverty.
The community has been rattled by several shootings, at least one fatal, in the past several weeks.
"I knew a lot about the community and still know a lot about the community because I come down very often to see things," Craig, who said he began his Harford County teaching career in Edgewood, told an audience of 26 people during a meeting of the Edgewood Community Council.
The audience Wednesday included Edgewood-area residents, community leaders, county officials who focus on Edgewood and top members of Craig's staff.
Craig said county leaders will conduct a July 18 walk-through of the areas of Edgewood which have been afflicted by violence this summer, such as Grempler Way.
Craig was introduced by County Councilman Dion Guthrie, whose district includes Edgewood.
Guthrie, a Democrat, thanked Craig, a Republican, for working across party lines and supporting Edgewood, starting with a $4,000 allocation of "seed money" to reinvigorate the Edgewood-Joppatowne Independence Day parade.
The sixth annual parade took place last weekend in Edgewood; the location alternates between Joppatowne and Edgewood each year.
The winners in the parades four categories received their awards during Wednesday's council meeting.
"It was a lot of work but we were happy to put the parade on in the Edgewood community," Community Council member Veronica Black said.
Black is also vice chair of the Edgewood/Joppatowne Independence Day Committee Inc.; she said she was glad to see local children enjoying Saturday's parade.
"And that's what we want to do, is bring something positive to our community, and that is to entertain our kids," she continued.
Guthrie also thanked Craig for ensuring a waste transfer station would not be built on county-owned land known as the Plecker property in Joppa by obtaining an agreement between Harford and Baltimore counties to have Harford's waste transferred to a facility in Baltimore County.
"I was very pleased that David dug in hard for us to find alternatives," the councilman said.
Craig said the property will be included in an upcoming county capital project study to determine the best use for it.
Craig was questioned on education by several, including Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, the teachers' union, and council member Trina Hill, who is a teacher at Magnolia Middle School.
Hill wondered why the county executive, a former teacher and school administrator, did not fully fund Harford County Public Schools' request for the 2014 fiscal year, which resulted in cutbacks to personnel, elimination of funding for contractually obligated teacher salary increases and the institution of fees to play sports and take part in extracurricular activities.
"If schools are suffering, public safety suffers," Hill said.
Craig noted he had to spread county funds over more than 20 agency budgets, and stressed no agency's request was fully funded.
"We've never lowered the amount of money we've given to them," he said of the school system.
Some members of the audience were skeptical about how much good a walking tour by county officials could do.
"Your walk-through is nice, but it's mouth service," Shirley Conley, a resident of the Edgewater Village community, said. "We don't need that; we need action and we need it today."
Conley lamented how crime has grown and streets, yards and houses have deteriorated in the 40 years she has lived in Edgewater Village.
She thanked Sheriff Jesse Bane, who attended Wednesday's meeting, for his attention to the crime issues affecting Edgewood; the Sheriff's Office has increased patrols in areas affected by violence and deputies are cracking down on even minor traffic infractions.
"I think it takes more than walking around," resident Ron Chapman said. "I think it takes kind of an economic intervention."
Chapman, noting Craig's run for governor, said "red tape" makes it difficult to start a small business along the Route 40 corridor and elsewhere in Maryland.
Craig said Edgewood is in an enterprise zone, and noted the county government has worked to promote economic development in Edgewood, even assigning an economic development staffer to focus on the area and promote it to potential investors.
Kohl's established a massive distribution center along the Route 40 corridor in recent years, and Chapman said most of Edgewood is a good place to live, noting the large number of professionals who have moved into the community.
Tiffany Robinson, community development administrator with the Department of Community Services, said Edgewood has been designated by the state as a "priority funding area" and a "sustainable community," making it eligible for state funding opportunities.
Robinson said her agency is working to keep the sustainable community designation for Edgewood, which expires at the end of 2013.
Craig, who served on the Havre de Grace City Council and as mayor, noted the measures his hometown has taken to raise housing standards, in response to questions about dealing with substandard housing in Edgewood and how it can become a magnet for crime.
There have been unsuccessful efforts to incorporate Edgewood in the past, and, with 28,000 residents, it would be Harford County's largest municipality, Craig said.
Chapman asked Craig if he would support Edgewood incorporating, and the county executive said he would.
Jansen Robinson, chairman of the Edgewood council, asked Chapman if he would consider serving as a co-chairman of a committee to study incorporation, which he agreed to do.
Chapman would be co-chair with council member Christine Holthaus.
Robinson thanked Craig for visiting Wednesday.
"He has never denied us anything we've asked, but then we've never asked for much," Robinson said, reminding residents they will not get the assistance they want if they do not ask for it.