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Harford council guts funding for Havre de Grace High replacement project

The Harford Council voted Tuesday to remove outyear funding for 2014 to 2016 to replace Havre de Grace High School, criticizing County Executive David Craig for revising the school priority list.

Craig, meanwhile, fired back a short time later, threatening not to fund any school projects for the next three years, if the HHS funding and his other school priorities aren't left intact.

Councilman Dick Slutzky said the Havre de Grace High project is not a priority and thus is inappropriate at this time.

"I don't know what interest they would have in altering the identified priorities under the current economic conditions," Slutzky said. "This is a money issue."

Council President Billy Boniface was less diplomatic.

"I tell you, this whole capital budget proposal by the county executive dealing with the board of ed came out of left field, absolutely no communication or any idea [of what] we had coming to us," he said, adding it moved projects "all over the place" and moved up two projects, Youth's Benefit Elementary School and Havre de Grace High.

"You have to figure out how to pay for every dollar he puts in. He will not," Boniface said about Craig. "You have got to keep that in mind when every one of these projects comes before us."

Boniface called the revised priorities a politicized move.

"Look, I get it. The county executive lives in Havre de Grace; he wants a high school in Havre de Grace," Boniface said, adding the children from Darlington, where he lives, also go to Havre de Grace High.

"But there's a process," he said.

Boniface added: "We have got to get away from doing everything based on politics and start doing things based on common sense."

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, who represents Havre de Grace and who like Craig is an HHS alumnus, blasted the whole process for board of education projects in general, saying the current battle over school project funding priorities is not the council's, county executive's or any single entity's fault.

"We have not been equitable in the way we funded capital projects," she said. "There's absolutely systemic problems in the way we fund capital projects."

The changes the council is making to Craig's 2013 budget that affect the Havre de Grace High replacement project could still be vetoed by the county executive, although at this point in the budget process there appear to be enough votes on the council to override a veto.

In a telephone conversation late Tuesday night, Craig strongly defended the need for a new high school in Havre de Grace.

"Havre de Grace is the only community in Harford County that hasn't had a new high school since 1967," he said, challenging the council members to walk through Havre de Grace High and then tell him it does not need renovation. "It is the oldest high school in Harford County, and it is the oldest high school physically in Harford County."

Craig threatened no new school construction for three years if those priorities are not upheld, and blasted the council for accusing him of changing priorities when that is exactly what they have done in the past.

"I guess the councilmen supported the schools when they were in their district," he said, applauding Lisanti and Councilman Dion Guthrie's support of his budget proposal in that regard.

He said this should be a warning to people from Youth's Benefit and William Paca elementary schools, because if the council had taken this stand five years ago, a new Edgewood High School would never have been built.

Craig defiantly took credit for recent school projects, one by one, and put himself squarely in opposition to the council and the board of education.

"I was the one that told them they needed to do the athletic [facilities] at North Harford, and I put it in the budget, not them," he said. "I am the one that helped push the forward-funding for Patterson Mill High School. I was the one that pushed Deerfield Elementary School."

At the county council meeting, David Glenn, who was recently elected to the Havre de Grace City Council, asked the council members to find some way to build a new high school for the children of Havre de Grace.

"They really deserve it," Glenn said.

Councilman Joe Woods, who represents Fallston, also said that Fallston High School is the only school that has not been modified or renovated in recent history, and is the only school that has been found to have high lead content in its drinking water.

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