The Harford County Council showed its support for a new community activity center in the city of Aberdeen Tuesday.
The council voted 7-0 to support a resolution that, while it “has no teeth,” according to Council President Patrick Vincenti, encourages Harford County Executive Barry Glassman to fund a new facility.
“It is a goodwill move on behalf of the council,” Vincenti said before the vote.
After the vote, Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady presented the council with a petition signed by more than 600 people supporting the project.
Aberdeen is in the middle of a 90-day consideration period to buy a 13-acre piece of property, known as the Mitchell Estate, on West Bel Air Avenue for $1.2 million, to be the site of the activity center.
City officials have been seeking assurances that county funding for design, engineering and construction of the building would be available. Design funding for the project has been in the county budget for more than a decade; in the fiscal year 2019 budget, the money was scheduled to be spent in FY2015. In the FY2010 budget it was pushed to FY2016, and in FY2014 it was pushed to FY2019.
No money was allocated for an Aberdeen community center in Glassman’s budget for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.
Harford County Director of Administration Billy Boniface said funding for design and engineering is included in the county executive’s Capital Improvement Plan for FY2021, with money for construction in the FY22 and FY23 budgets.
When putting together his budget, Glassman considers revenues and expenses, the future economic outlook and any unknown mandates that could be on the horizon, Boniface said.
“He can make no guarantees for funding for any future projects at this early date, a whole seven months before he’s required to submit a proposed budget to the council,” Boniface said.
Not only would it be a violation of the county charter to guarantee funding, it would be “fiscally irresponsible," he said.
Councilman Robert Wagner, who represents Aberdeen and sponsored the resolution, said understands what is funded depends on revenues and expenses.
“Things change when you run in-district. Aberdeen being a municipality in my district and it’s important to stand there and wave the flag for them and make sure, hopefully, it comes to fruition in the very near future and keeps it going on the right track,” Wagner said.
At Monday’s Aberdeen City Council meeting, McGrady told his colleagues he would be presenting his petitions on Tuesday.
“The outstanding question is if the county executive will make it a priority in the budget,” McGrady said. “Publicly he has said no one can make a guarantee. We don’t need a guarantee, we want to know we are a priority. Second- and third-hand parties indicate we are a priority.”
The mayor thanked the council Tuesday for their support and explained the petition drive.
“It was intended to demonstration to the county council, the county executive, the administration, the desire of the Aberdeen community and surrounding neighborhoods to make sure we’re a priority when it comes to funding capital projects, specifically as it relates to the Aberdeen community center,” McGrady said.
Aberdeen does not want to move forward with buying the Mitchell property without some certainty the county will fund it, he said.
“My people are not only motivated about this, they’ve been waiting for this for many years,” McGrady said. “We feel in Aberdeen as if we’ve been overlooked for this project for many years. It’s important to Aberdeen to know it’s a priority of yours.”
The mayor said he intends to reinforce the city’s position when he and City Manager Randy Robertson meet with Glassman Sept. 30.
Also to be discussed at that meeting is Aberdeen’s desire to use the county’s existing water line under Route 40 to Havre de Grace so Havre de Grace can sell water to Aberdeen.
In January, the cities of Aberdeen and Havre de Grace reached an agreement in which Aberdeen would buy 500,000 gallons of water daily from Havre de Grace for $4 per 1,000 gallons. The agreement is expected to save Aberdeen at least $120,000 annually once it’s in place.
Aberdeen currently buys water from the county, at a rate of $4.69 per 1,000 gallons, and will continue to do so until infrastructure is in place. The two cities could use county water lines, with county approval, which they have yet to receive, or lay their own pipes.
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“We hope to be able to get to the bottom of that project so we can know with clarity the path forward for what we need to do,” McGrady said.