Harford County Executive Barry Glassman unveiled his budget proposal Monday for fiscal 2019, a nearly $900 million spending package without any tax increases.
That covers a $733.4 million operating budget, calling for nearly 6 percent more spending than the current fiscal year, and a $166.1 million capital budget, which calls for $40.3 million more in spending, or 32.06 percent more than in fiscal 2018, according to budget documents.
Highlights of the budget for fiscal 2019 — which begins July 1— include funding for salary increases for county employees, as well as those with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, public schools and public libraries; funding for a 24-hour crisis center for people with mental health and addiction issues; increased funding for volunteer fire companies; continued funding for a county-run EMS operation; money for school safety upgrades and to expand the number of school resource officers; and a record $22 million for agricultural land preservation.
All new revenue in fiscal 2019 will be dedicated to education and public safety, Glassman said while presenting the budget to Aegis reporters and editors at the county administration building in Bel Air Monday morning.
County officials anticipate revenue growth of 3 to 4 percent next year, according to Glassman and county Treasurer Robert Sandlass.
Capital budget highlights include funds from local, state and federal sources for construction of the new Havre de Grace Middle/High School; completing renovations of Fallston Hall at Harford Community College; connecting the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail; purchasing new safety gear and building upgrades for fire companies and multiple road, bridge, stormwater and, water and sewer projects.
Glassman said he plans salary increases for all county employees that include a 2 percent Cost of Living Adjustment, or COLA, plus a $2,000 merit-based increase for those who qualify.
There are 1,100 full and part-time county employees; only full-time employees are eligible for the merit-based increase, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby. There are 900 total full-time employees.
There will be equivalent increases for Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office and Circuit Court employees, the county executive said.
He said the salary increase will have a greater effect on employees who are on the lower end of the scale. The average salary is about $56,000, and “most of the employees are there and below,” Glassman said.
That equates to an increase of about 5.6 percent for the average employee, or about 7 percent for those who make around $35,000 a year, Glassman said.
“The effect of that is, [I am] giving some our employees down the grade levels a little bigger increase than I’m giving the folks at the higher levels,” he said.
Glassman will allocate $2.8 million next year for the second year of a two-year, $5.3 million pay parity plan for Sheriff’s Office law enforcement and corrections deputies as well as civilian employees.
“That addresses [salary] compression, lateral [hires] and some of the recruitment problems the Sheriff’s Office has had, so that brings [Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler’s] folks up to some parity with other jurisdictions,” Glassman said.
Glassman is allocating $81.2 million to the Sheriff’s Office overall, including $122,472 for a cadet program. Last July, the first cadet was Tyler Dailey, son of slain Senior Deputy Patrick Dailey, who was murdered in the line of duty along with Deputy First Class Mark Logsdon in February 2016.
Glassman said the funding will cover four cadets next year, giving the 21-year-old men and women the opportunity to start police training.
“It’s a great recruitment [tool], because we’re hoping that eventually we can move them right into the ranks of the sheriff’s department,” he said.
Glassman said the county is partnering with local colleges and universities, such as Stevenson University in Baltimore County, to bring in students as interns, and he thinks the county should pursue a similar program for EMS.
The county is allocating $17.4 million for Harford County Public Library operations next year, including money for the equivalent of a 3 percent pay increase for employees. The county and library system have an agreement in which the county executive funds library employees at the same level as county government workers.
“That’s a record level of funding for the county public library,” Glassman said.
The county executive will allocate $245.8 million to Harford County Public Schools next year. That figure covers 43 percent, the largest share of the $571.5 million general fund budget, according to budget documents.
The amount, which Glassman called “record-level funding” for the schools, is $7.1 million more than what he allocated for the current fiscal year. It is about $17.7 million less, however, than the $263.5 million sought from the county in the budget request developed by Superintendent Barbara Canavan and approved by the Harford County Board of Education.
Glassman said $6.4 million of the $7.1 million increase will be “fenced off” for instructional salary increases, and he challenged the school board to match that amount for instructional and support staff.
Glassman will allocate $16.8 million for Harford Community College operations, which covers the county’s commitment under the so-called Cade funding formula for community colleges — one third of a college’s budget is covered by tuition, one third by the state and one third by the local jurisdiction.
College President Dianna Phillips put forth a budget request that calls for employee salary increases that reflect those given to county employees, but “that’s a tricky precedent to set,” Glassman said.
“If they want to do salaries, the other two partners are going to have to come up with their share,” Glassman said. “We’re willing to put up our third.”
The county has also set aside $5.8 million in capital funds for HCC next year. That figure, which includes state and county funds, will cover renovations to Fallston Hall on the main Bel Air campus, according to Mumby.
The county is allocating $1.2 million for school safety next year, including $773,000 for the Sheriff’s Office to hire enough school resource officers to staff all middle and high schools in its jurisdiction — municipal police departments provide school resource officers for schools in their city and town limits — plus $325,000 for security camera upgrades and $100,000 to improve radio communication infrastructure so officers and staff in the schools can talk to dispatchers and first responders.
“We don’t want to get into a situation where no one can hear each other on the radio in an emergency,” Glassman said.
He is also allocating $6.9 million, a 3 percent increase, in funding for volunteer fire companies — the first increase in 10 fiscal years. The county will provide $3.5 million for the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Foundation, which helps provide paid EMS staff to augment the volunteers’ services, and $1.5 million for the new county-run EMS unit.
The first of two county-owned and operated surge ambulances hit the road in January, and the second is scheduled to enter service when the new fiscal year begins in July.
The surge ambulances, along with the hiring of a medical director and the appointment of an EMS standards board, are the first steps of a larger movement initiated by the Glassman administration in 2017 to create a county EMS system, as the 12 volunteer fire and EMS companies that serve Harford County continue to struggle to find enough volunteers and funding to cover growing expenses for facilities, apparatus maintenance and replacement and training.
“As we go forward, we’ll begin to evaluate how we move forward with the Foundation and the safety net service that we have with the two surge units,” Glassman said.
Crisis center, opioid treatment and prevention
Glassman said he will more than double the amount for preventing and treating opioid addiction to $610,000.
That figure includes a $250,000 contribution toward a 24-hour crisis center operated in partnership with University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, the Harford County Health Department and the nonprofit, Healthy Harford.
Glassman said officials are close to securing a lease on a facility in the Bel Air area that should be up and running by this fall. A person in a mental health or addiction crisis could walk into the three to six-bed facility and “get the wraparound services they need,” he said.
He said the cost of the crisis center and other addiction services will be part of the damages the county will present as part of its lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors, who have received much of the blame for a deadly heroin and opioid crisis in Harford County, the state and the nation.
Glassman said he participated in the annual Rage Against Addiction Recovery Run and Memory Walk over the weekend at Cedar Lane Park in Bel Air. He said there were about 1,200 people at the Saturday event, including many who have a loved one who died because of drug addiction.
“We felt good that we had a lot of people there, but there’s a sad side to it, that the numbers are just still increasing,” Glassman said.
There have been 107 suspected overdoses so far this year, with 26 fatalities, according to Sheriff’s Office statistics.