Harford legislators file bills for bond funds for SARC, preschool

Harford County legislators have filed bond bills in Annapolis seeking funding for a handful of projects, including an improved and expanded shelter for Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center and improvements to a historic northern Harford building that houses a community preschool.

Another bond bill would support the ongoing renovation of the Historical Society of Harford County’s headquarters in Bel Air, while a fourth would foster a new project in Aberdeen to link education programs with Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, a Democrat, filed House Bill 333, to provide a grant of up to $500,000 to SARC board of directors to support the expansion and renovations of its emergency shelter. Sen. Robert Cassilly, a Republican, filed a companion bill, Senate Bill 208.

The organization’s leaders want to expand the shelter, which is in a confidential location, from 28 to 40 beds, improve the kitchen area to accommodate more people, create a dedicated play area for children and make it so men, women and children can use the facility at one time, CEO Luisa Caiazzo said. SARC maintains a separate facility to serve male victims.

“The new shelter will make it easier to have everybody living in one space together,” Caiazzo said Tuesday.

The Bel Air-based SARC was established in 1978. It provides multiple services to men, women and children who are victims or survivors of domestic, dating or sexual violence and stalking, according to its website. Such services include the shelter, where abuse survivors and their children can stay for six months maximum.

Caiazzo said SARC officials want the shelter to be more “trauma informed,” or designed with larger spaces, better and more natural lighting and improved sight lines so people can better heal from traumatic experiences.

The idea is to create more open space so those who have been victimized can see all the activity and people around them. This is especially important for people who have been locked up by an abuser in a confined space such as a closet, according to Caiazzo.

“You know what the environmental cues that help people heal from trauma are, and you structure your building to take that into account,” she said.

Caiazzo said Cassilly and Lisanti have toured the shelter and understand the need for improvements.

“I’ve been very familiar with their services since I was on the [Harford] County Council and the need for them to expand and have better facilities for their [clients], and particularly for the children,” Lisanti said.

Lisanti said conditions at the shelter are “not the best.”

“It’s important for particularly anybody that’s been through a traumatic situation to regain their sense of comfort, and that’s why I think this is really important,” she said.

Lisanti has filed two other bond bills — House Bill 969 for up to $200,000 for capital improvements at the Historical Society of Harford County in Bel Air, and House Bill 970 for up to $250,000 to the Aberdeen Proving Ground Centennial Celebration Association to establish an APG discovery and education center in the Amtrak/MARC rail station in downtown Aberdeen.

Children’s Center improvements

Del. Teresa Reilly, a Republican and head of Harford’s House delegation, filed House Bill 650 for up to $180,000 for capital improvements of the Baity Building of the The Children's Center of North Harford preschool. Her bill was introduced in the Appropriations Committee Jan. 29, according to the website.

The money would be used to replace the front steps and improve two classrooms that have not been improved since the 1960s, Christine Halliwell, the center’s executive director, said Monday.

The Baity Building opened in 1924 as an agricultural school and later became the kindergarten building for the former Highland Elementary School, according to Halliwell.

The Children’s Center of North Harford, which was founded in 1971, occupies two buildings in the 700 block of Highland Road in Street. The center has occupied the Baity Building since the mid-1980s, Halliwell said.

The Children’s Center offers nursery school classes for children ages 2 through 5, extended day care and before and after-care for children who attend North Harford Elementary School,

The Children’s Center occupies space in the Baity Building and the Highland Building across the street. Both buildings are owned by Harford County, and the center leases space through the Highland Community Association, according to Halliwell.

She said the Highland Community Association, which leases space from the county and, in turn, leases that space to the Children’s Center, approached her organization about seeking state bond funding for the capital repairs.

They are the first phase in a larger effort to expand the Baity Building and create a single facility, so children and staff do not have to walk back and forth across Highland Road, Halliwell said.

She described Baity as “a beautiful building” and “very much part of the Highland landscape.”

“The people of this community really love it, especially those of us who work here at the Children’s Center,” Halliwell said.

She said “child care is a need” in northern Harford County, “and we are very attached to these buildings.”

“If there’s any way we can get it improved and make it better for our kids, that’s the plan,” Halliwell said.

Governor limits borrowing

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan will not commit funds for local bond bills in his fiscal 2019 budget, and he has not budgeted for bond bills throughout his first term — that money is allocated by the General Assembly, according to Shareese Churchill, Hogan’s spokesperson.

“Years of over-borrowing by previous administrations have led to debt service becoming the fastest growing cost, on a percentage basis, in the general fund budget, Churchill wrote in an email Monday. “Governor Hogan remains committed to controlling costs and borrowing responsibly.”

Hogan’s proposed 2019 capital budget limits debt issuances to $995 million a year over the next five years, saving the state $740 million in the next 15 years, Churchill wrote.

That means the legislature can still allocate money for bond bills; it just has a limited pot of money on which it can draw, according to Churchill.

Lisanti expressed her disappointment in the lack of bond funding from Hogan. She said “every bit of bond bill money that has come back to Harford County” is allocated by the majority-Democrat General Assembly.

Lisanti, the Harford delegation’s only Democrat, said she has obtained $850,000 in bond funding for Harford projects since she was elected in 2014, projects such as a new fire/rescue boat for the Susquehanna Hose Company of Havre de Grace and repairs for Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.

“This is the opportunity for legislators to promote projects that are important within their community and get direct finding for that,” she said.

This story is updated from an earlier version.

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