Bel Air group homes need to be spread out, residents tell town

"Things are getting ugly" in parts of the heart of Bel Air, especially where some of town's group homes are concentrated.

Several residents brought their concerns about group homes in the East Broadway-Franklin Street area to the Bel Air town commissioners at their meeting Monday night.

The meeting also included a public hearing on the proposed $15,754,120 budget for fiscal year 2013.

In 2010, town commissioners urged the Harford County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to pass a bill that would regulate the density of group homes.

While lawmakers considered such legislation, a letter from the Attorney General's office warned that creating zoning standards for the homes would be deemed illegal.

"We're a compassionate community, but you need to spread [group homes] out," Bob Cassilly, a former Bel Air commissioner and county councilman, told the board of commissioners.

Cassilly said there are six group homes near his house, and a proposal has been made for another.

"It's just absurd," he said. "Bel Air does not need to solve all the social problems of the world."

Gail Sullivan, who lives on Franklin Street, also voiced her concerns with the number of group homes in the neighborhood.

"It's really unfair for the people that live in the area," she said. Sullivan added she is worried the number of group homes will destroy property values.

Robert Hruz told the board, "I'm here because I love the town of Bel Air. I really do."

Hruz and his family, who live on East Broadway, recently moved to the neighborhood from Major's Choice and believes "things are getting ugly where we live. Rapidly."

He called the area a deteriorating community and said that "simply because it is legal" to build group homes in the residential neighborhood "does not mean it should be done."

Commissioner Robert Preston told the crowd that the board's "hands seem to be tied by federal and state regulations." A good direction to go in, however, would be to continue discussions with state representatives.

Budget hearing

During the public hearing on the budget, Cassilly expressed his gratitude for the sidewalk improvements that are included in the fiscal year 2013 budget, but wishes the sidewalks in his neighborhood, especially on Broadway, Franklin and Ellendale streets, were included on that list.

Cassilly described sidewalk repairs as a "continued investment by the town" and something that is needed.

The sidewalks from Klein's ShopRite on North Main Street going toward Rock Spring, he continued, are "the worst looking sidewalks in the town of Bel Air."

Cassilly also mentioned sidewalks on Ellendale Street, an area that ties the community to the Ma & Pa Trail.

The former commissioner had one word to describe the condition of those sidewalks: "pathetic."

John Meeks, an English Country Manor resident, thanked the board of commissioners for the inclusion of a traffic light at Boulton Street and Gateway Drive in the budget.

In this new budget, which is more than half a million dollars less than this year's, property tax rates will stay the same.

The town's proposed new budget totals $15,754,120, a $642,455 decrease from 2012's amended budget, Town Administrator Chris Schlehr pointed out to the commissioners.

It comprises of four funds: the general fund, which totals $11,819, 216, the sewer fund, which totals $2,188,933, the parking fund, which totals $1,166,042, and the special revenue fund, which totals $579,529.

Schlehr explained that tax rates will stay at 50 cents per $100 of assessed value for real property, and $1.16 per $100 of assessed value for personal property.

Debt service in the general fund is "really low" Schlehr said, at 3.5 percent, and the departments of public works and public safety "consume" over half of the general fund.

Salaries for employees in several departments, including the administrator, economic development and planning and zoning, will not increase. More is budgeted for salaries of employees at the Reckord Armory, however, because of the part-time jobs transitioning to full-time, plus overtime.

Schlehr said $30,000 will be transferred to the capital reserve for projects in the upcoming fiscal year.

A street and sidewalk construction plan is also part of the budget - $370,000 set aside for street work and $57,000 for sidewalk repair, mainly on the same roads where there will be construction, such as Hayden Way and Jessie Court.

The town hopes to replace one dump truck, one pickup truck and four police cars, as well, which was detailed in the budget that Schlehr and his staff put together.

The fiscal year 2013 proposed budget anticipates a decrease in total revenues of roughly $49,000.

There will be another public hearing on May 21 before the commissioners take a final vote to adopt the budget on or before June 1. The commissioners had an initial work session on the budget April 10.

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