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Harford 'giving out money like a drunken sailor'

Economic Policy

A Harford County Councilman blasted the county's loan program for local businesses, saying they're basically grants, not loans at all.

Councilman Jim McMahan said he is tired of the county or state throwing around taxpayer money.

"We're giving money out like a drunken sailor," McMahan said.

His comments came during a hearing on a plan to give a conditional loan of up to $160,000 to HP White Laboratory in Street, which Jim Richardson, Harford County's economic development director, said has been in the county for more than 50 years and is one of the oldest military testing firms.

The company plans to spend $4 million to expand its facility and hire up to 50 new employees. It has 34.

"For fear of getting tabbed as an anti-business person, I'll tell you somewhere we've got to put a halt to this," McMahan said. "You can lend money any day in the world, and I don't care if it's 1 percent, but get your money back. That's the way you run a business."

Richardson said he did not disagree, but "can only tell you that we're in a market and yes, we're competitive. To be competitive with other states, we have other companies that are being recruited right and left."

McMahan demanded to know how many companies have actually left, and Richardson said some are talking about it. Tucker McNulty, also with the economic development department, later added Nutramax moved half of its operation to South Carolina.

McNulty noted the company must spend $40,000 on training.

"For us, it's a win-win because they're going to be reimbursed only for what they train and that is increasing the skill set of an employee here, and we look at it as an economic development tool," McNulty said.

Councilmen Dion Guthrie and Chad Shrodes, however, said the loan might help the county at large.

"While right now we're in a state of where we are potentially staying flat or even losing jobs because of sequestration, activities like this that are expanding in our county may save us," Shrodes said.

Guthrie said people "griped" about the loan given to Smiths Detection, but the firm has hired many employees and contributed much to Harford.

He said the county has seen many of these loans come back and give "gifts" to the county.

"They aren't gifts, they're investments in our citizens," Guthrie said.

Signs of safety

The council also held a hearing on a bill that would allow electronic signs for public safety purposes regardless of zoning.

Councilman Joe Woods explained some fire companies want the signs, but the zoning would not permit them.

The company in Fallston, which Woods represents, tried to apply for a sign and Harford County Executive David Craig even put money in the budget for it, he said.

Now, he said, "they're still sitting there with a brand-new marquee and no sign."

He said others, including the northern precinct of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, the Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps, the shelter at the Level Volunteer Fire Company and stations at Darlington and Whiteford could be interested.

"Most are on major state highways and they're still prohibited from having these types of signs if they needed them," Woods said.

New bills

The council introduced bills that would allow public hearings to be advertised in just one newspaper instead of two, create an audit advisory board, clarify that the county auditor would be in charge of sending fiscal impact notes to the council, create a long-term healthy community planning board to replace the temporary obesity task force and define a "field house" as a building large enough to hold an athletic field adjacent to an athletic facility.

None of those bills were discussed Tuesday.

The council also read into the record nearly 100 amendments to the budget ,but did not vote on any.

The amendments include moving about $41,000 to the post-employment health plan, add $12,773 to the accounting bureau and $46,865 for "confidential personnel action," add new projects to the Tactical Response Team, add $8.4 million in bonds for the James Run tax-increment financing project, add $35,000 to the funding for SARC (Safety Awareness Resources Change), ARC of Harford County and the Harford Family House as well as a variety of school projects.

The school projects include a $1.7 million security initiative capital project, electrical support for Homestead/Wakefield Elementary School and about $1.6 million worth of upgrades to the Aberdeen High School stadium and weight room (to "provide facilities similar to others in the county").

A resolution was introduced to make changes to the 2014 capital program that includes cutting $6 million from the water supply agreement with Baltimore City for fiscal year 2018, cutting prior funding of $575,000 from the school board's music equipment refresh program, cutting $245,000 of prior funding from the Pleasantville Road Bridge project, cutting $375,000 of prior funding from the MacPhail Road project, cutting $609,678 in prior funding from the Tollgate Road/Vale Road corridor project and cutting $2.7 million of prior funding from a project to convert tar and chip to "hot mix."

The resolution was not voted on Tuesday.

The council approved the appointment of Debra Hanley to the Advisory Board on Aging, Mark Gallihue to the Historic Preservation Commission, Kevin Keegan and Shawn Kros to the Local Management Board and Annie Brock to the Commission on Veterans' Affairs.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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