We all love Harford County’s beautiful farms. In 1992 the county with the assistance of the state delegates legislated a transfer tax (1 percent on any instrument that conveys title to, or a leasehold interest in real property).
I do not know how much money has been generated since 1992 but 50,000 acres have been put in preservation by various programs in the county (not all of them with the transfer tax).
When I started looking at the budget last year I noticed that there was an unassigned fund balance of $52,728386 in the Agricultural Preservation Fund. This year the unassigned fund balance is $47,894386. Now that is after the budget reports spending $21,234,000 this year and spending plans for next year of $30,000,000.
I am very much in favor of agricultural preservation but this is noteworthy because our parks in the Joppatowne area are badly in need of upkeep and the 60,000 people who live in this small area of the county have very little park space. It is very interesting to note that last year the operating fund balance for Parks and Rec was $79,486 and that from a total operating budget of $9,339,147. This pays for part time staff in the summer months only, while our park is used year-round.
I am happy to report that after my visits with the county administration and the director of parks and recreation, $250,000 in upkeep funds were added to the Mariner Park budget this year. In last year’s budget five-year plan there was no money planned.
I think we need a public review of all the monies raised by the transfer tax since 1992 and a report on how it has been spent. The tax legislation requires that 50 percent be spent on school construction and 50 percent go to ag preservation. A comprehensive review of the program and the needs of the county might dictate that the percentages be changed. Perhaps a split of 20/30 for agricultural preservation and park maintenance or historic preservation. We are a county filled with remarkable historic sites that, if repaired, displayed and promoted, could enhance tourism and quality of life for us all.
I would also like a review of the school spending since Joppatowne High School has had no renovations and is in need of some immediate update for safety and health issues.
Budgets are a very interesting look into what is happening in the county. I was also appalled to note that despite the crying need for improved stormwater management, the Stormwater Management Fund has a fund balance of $6,282,997 with a reported spending this year of $763,000. This despite the county having to fund dredging for waterways every few years due to runoff and poor storm water management. The DPW official I spoke to said there was no money.
The writer is president of the Joppa Development and Heritage Corporation and served on the Harford County Council from 1978-1990.