Harford may make over-the-counter credit payments available, but at a charge

Harford County residents could soon be able to pay their county bills with over-the-counter credit card payments but would also probably have to front a convenience charge between $4.95 and $60 to pay with a credit or debit card at all.

The Harford County Council held a hearing Tuesday on the proposed bill, which county treasurer Kathryn Hewitt said will give residents greater flexibility in how they pay the county.

She said residents can pay for some services online with a debit or credit card, but cannot pay over the counter by credit card anywhere.

"This will expand our ability to potentially be able to take them over the counter or expand usage in senior centers, in our permitting department, up at the landfill for solid waste payments," she explained.

She also said none of the fees go to the county but to a third-party credit card processor.

"It's not a revenue enhancement for the county in that sense. The only revenue enhancement for the county is it gives our citizens multiple means of making payments," she said.

She said most other jurisdictions have this but Harford never did.

The council also held a hearing on a bill to adjust some standards for aircraft landings, which planning and zoning department director Pete Gutwald later said was prompted by the Aldino Road airport's desire to expand and renovate its facility.

Gutwald told the council the adjustments would include allowing part of the airport property to be in an agricultural zoning classification and also to make private landing and general aviation regulations consistent with some state standards.

"A lot of that is so we can deal with the nonconforming uses," he said. "You realize there are only three airports [in the county]. Two have properties that are ag zoned."

With this bill, the county "wouldn't have to deal with a zoning change," he said. "We thought it was best to deal with it through a textual amendment."

OPEB bill, HUD grants, county settlement

The council approved bills appropriating funds for the 2013 post-employment health plan and other post-employment benefits funds.

The proposed appropriations are $2,040,510 to the health plan and $9,442,537 to the other funds, and such funding is necessary under accounting principles governments are required to follow. The additional money is coming from unappropriated surpluses from prior budgets, according to the legislation.

The council passed a resolution allowing the county to file applications with the U.S. and state departments of housing and urban development for grant assistance under any of its programs and authorizing the receipt of those funds.

The council also approved a request by county attorney Rob McCord to potentially accept a large settlement from a 2010 case called Nguigi vs. Harford County that is pending in court.

McCord said the case involves a vehicle and a snowplow during the blizzard of February 2010 and the situation is entering an "alternative dispute resolution."

McCord said that process may result in an award greater than his authority allows him to accept, which is $100,000.

Council President Billy Boniface noted McCord had met with each council member to discuss the situation and told McCord: "While this council has given you a range to operate in, I hope you do your due diligence... for the taxpayer."

Councilman Dion Guthrie, meanwhile, said he thought requests like these should be made in closed session because of the type of information being put out.

Boniface, however, pointed out the settlement numbers are not being discussed.

New bills

The council also introduced bills that would broaden the definition of a nuisance animal to include dogs, cats, reptiles and fowl, as well as "large-breed" animals, and that would approve the proposed bicycle and pedestrian master plan for the county.

Public hearings will be held for both bills at 7 p.m. on March 19 in the council chambers.

Also at the meeting, Councilman Joe Woods said he will be shaving his head for St. Baldrick's, a cancer charity for children. He asked anyone interested in joining him to contact him at jmwoods@harfordcountymd.gov.

Amarilyz Pimentel, a teacher at Hall's Cross Roads Elementary School in Aberdeen, told the council she is concerned about the education budget and said fully funding it "guarantees that students receive the necessary intervention."

"I bear witness to programs eliminated in schools because of lack of funding, programs that students with special needs need to level the playing field," she said.

She said students are being given the same intervention program and many remain below grade level year after year.

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