County council gives Anna's House to Catholic Charities, with restricted-use conditions

The Harford County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to declare surplus two properties on Tollgate Road and deed them to Catholic Charities, which has run Anna's House, a shelter for homeless women, for the past 15 years there.

In answer to a question from Councilman Jim McMahan, procurement director Deborah Henderson said the deed with Catholic Charities includes a clause stating the county will take back the properties, on 605 and 606 Tollgate Road, if they are ever put toward another use.

"They cannot sell it and make a profit on that property," Henderson said about Catholic Charities.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti said the properties were originally bought to give neighbors a buffer between the adjacent landfill.

The properties are valued at more than $530,000 and were bought by the county in the mid-1990s.

Scott DeLong, aBel Air resident, said at Tuesday's council meeting he did not think the move was a good use of taxpayer dollars.

"I consider them belonging to the taxpayers of Harford County, and if the properties are going to be donated, I don't think that's really in the provenance of government to donate taxpayer dollars," DeLong said.

He suggested the properties be put on the open market, with Catholic Charities being given the right of first refusal, and the money from the purchase put toward retiring the county's debt.

"I think charity's all well and good – I give a lot of money to my church – but I think a charity is the provenance of the individual, or an organization, and not the government," he said. "I know the county owns several other properties and I don't think it's the provenance of government to be in the real estate business."

Robert Gibbs, of Havre de Grace, also had concerns about the action.

He questioned the stability of the sewage system on the side of Anna's House.

"What happens when the sewage system fails? As you well know, when you have that many women in the house, you have a lot of water going down the drain," he said.

None of the council members voiced any concerns about surplusing the property.

Council President Billy Boniface said after the meeting he did not consider the move "a donation" and thought Harford County Executive David Craig's rationale for the initiative was valid.

Boniface cited "the conditions that are there, with the limited use of the properties, and the need of Anna's House is a benefit."

He said the shelter is in the right location and should continue its function, without burdening the county.

"You have to look at each issue individually, and in this case, I feel the administration was correct," he said.

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