Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady is pushing his colleagues on the city council to make it known to county officials they want an activity center built in the city, as soon as possible.
“Make sure the county executive, the administration, understands it’s a priority of yours to see this project come to fruition in our lifetime,” McGrady told council members at their meeting Monday. "Because if we don’t push this, it’s possible, I would argue likely, it gets pushed another 10 years. We have to stay on top of this so the county funds it in the next budget cycle.”
McGrady met last week with Harford County Council President Patrick Vincenti and Councilmen Andre Johnson and Robert Wagner to solicit support for an activity center in Aberdeen.
The city has a contract to buy 13 acres at 684 W. Bel Air Ave., the Mitchell estate, with hopes that it will become home to the Aberdeen Activity Center, similar to activity centers in other parts of the county.
The FY2021 county budget includes $500,000 for design of the center, with $8 million in the FY2022 budget for construction and $500,000 in FY2023 for “buildout,” furniture, chairs — things needed to operate the center.
The design money has been in the county budget since FY2009, to be spent in FY2015, McGrady said. In the FY2010 budget it was pushed to FY2016, and in FY2014 it was pushed to FY2019 — McGrady went through the county’s approved budgets back to FY2009 in preparation for his meeting with Vincent and the councilmen, he said.
“We talked through specifically what Aberdeen is looking for — some kind of certainty that we can know the Aberdeen activity center is going to be funding,” McGrady said. “I looked for a commitment from them that they would take action to ensure the budget includes this line.”
The city council wants assurances before moving forward with the $1.2 million purchase of the Mitchell estate that it can be used for the activity center.
The mayor said Vincenti, Johnson and Wagner “were very strong supporters” of the project and they’d like to fund it “as soon as reasonably possible.”
“We are very sympathetic, we agree it’s long overdue to have an activity center for youth in Aberdeen; it’s the largest municipality in Harford County,” Vincenti said Tuesday. “We want to see it go through."
The administration wants to see it move forward, too, he said.
“In their minds, they’re worried about other things that may come up, unexpected expenses,” Vincenti said.
“I am comfortable speaking for my colleagues on the council, we’re all of the mindset we’d like to see it move forward, but we don’t have the appropriate authority, we can’t write a check for it,” he said. “We can advocate for it, and make sure the county stays healthy and we can forward and fund that project.”
A commitment to funding the activity in the next budget would be up to County Executive Barry Glassman “because he produces the budget and we don’t have any authority over it,” said McGrady, adding he intends to set up a meeting with the county executive.
When developing the county’s budget for FY2021, Glassman will look at revenues, expenses and the economic outlook, “and craft a budget recommendation based on that information at that time,” Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for Harford County government, said.
“The county executive is not making a commitment beyond this fiscal year,” Mumby said. “It’s in the Capital Improvement Plan, but he can’t make a guarantee.”
McGrady said he also suggested to the three county council members that the $800,000 in the county’s budget to build two sports fields at Rock Glenn Park be abandoned and that money be put toward the activity center project instead.
“Technically, it’s in Aberdeen, but actually it’s very challenging to get to from Aberdeen,” McGrady said. “It seems like [the council members] were supportive of that as our goal, the council’s goal, the city’s goal is to have a park where our people can get to readily, kids can access it.”
Another group is interested in the Mitchell site and had been looking at it to build fields to replace some that are going out of service in the next year and a half, he said.
Doing a “hand sketch” for the property, an engineer determined the Mitchell site could likely accommodate six fields, which isn’t the 12 the other group was seeking, McGrady said.
“That’s useful to us to indicate we could build our 35,000- to 40,000-square-foot activity center and five sports fields and fit it all on the Mitchell site even with the challenges of wet soil,” he said.