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Harford County Council issues support for funding Aberdeen community center

Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady speaks to the Harford County Council in June, urging members to support county funding to build a community center in the city. The Aberdeen council had just approved a contract to purchase 13 acres on which to build the facility and set a 90-day waiting period pending securing county funds. The County Council introduced a resolution Tuesday stating its support for the project.
Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady speaks to the Harford County Council in June, urging members to support county funding to build a community center in the city. The Aberdeen council had just approved a contract to purchase 13 acres on which to build the facility and set a 90-day waiting period pending securing county funds. The County Council introduced a resolution Tuesday stating its support for the project. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A resolution affirming the Harford County Council’s support for ensuring funding of a long-desired community center in Aberdeen remains viable in future county budgets was introduced during Tuesday’s council meeting.

Resolution 013-19, which the full council has not voted on yet, arrives as a 90-day waiting period for the City of Aberdeen to proceed on its purchase of 13 acres for the community center winds down this month.

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“This is just another tool that I thought was needed, for us to at least show our support from the council side,” Councilman Robert Wagner, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said Tuesday.

The Aberdeen City Council approved a contract to purchase the land, known as the Mitchell property, on West Bel Air Avenue June 17, with the caveat that the city would wait 90 days before closing on the $1.2 million acquisition so officials could ensure county funding for design, engineering and construction of the building would be available.

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No money has been allocated for an Aberdeen community center in County Executive Barry Glassman’s current budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which started July 1. Funding for design and engineering would be available for the 2021 fiscal year at the earliest, according to county budget documents.

Wagner, whose district includes Aberdeen, is sponsoring the legislation with Councilman Andre Johnson, who represents the Edgewood and Joppa areas. Council Vice President Joe Woods said a public hearing on the resolution is not required, and the council will consider the resolution “at a future meeting.” The council has two more legislative sessions this month — Sept. 10 and Sept. 17.

Wagner said he has been talking with members of Glassman’s administration and has “been assured” that funding will be available in future county budgets, starting next year.

“I thought it was important that we did show Aberdeen that we were behind that project and move forward in that way,” he said.

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The county councilman also spoke during the Aberdeen City Council meeting on Aug. 26. He informed the mayor and council members that he planned to introduce the resolution, plus he spoke with his colleagues and the county administration and heard their support for moving ahead with the recreation center.

Mayor Patrick McGrady thanked Wagner for coming and preparing the resolution and said city leaders would work to ensure people come to the County Council’s Sept. 10 meeting to support it.

“I look forward to it being introduced,” McGrady said.

The City of Aberdeen is considering purchasing the 13-acre Mitchell Estate on West Bel Air Avenue to use for an urban park and the future site of an activity center.
The City of Aberdeen is considering purchasing the 13-acre Mitchell Estate on West Bel Air Avenue to use for an urban park and the future site of an activity center. (Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Richard Slutzky, a former County Council president and council member who represented Wagner’s current district, also spoke during the Aberdeen council meeting. Slutzky, who lives in Aberdeen, noted he put forth legislation about a decade ago supporting construction of a community recreation center and ensuring the city “moved to the top of the list” for the county’s next such facility.

He also reported speaking with the county administration and council leaders regarding funding for the the project.

“I’m here to support the community activity center, the process that we’ve gone through ... make sure that gets done according to what we hoped would happen here,” Slutzky said.

The resolution introduced Tuesday indicates the Aberdeen community center has been in Harford County’s capital improvement program “for over a decade,” but construction has “repeatedly” been postponed. Community centers have been built in Harford’s other two municipalities, Bel Air and Havre de Grace, as well as Fallston, according to the resolution.

The $4.7 million, 23,900 square-foot Level Building at the Churchville Recreation Complex off of Route 155 opened in 2016. The structure has spaces for indoor and outdoor recreation, sports such as basketball, tennis, volleyball, even pickle ball, as well as a fitness center and storage and community meeting spaces.

Edgewood also has a recreation and community center. A combined $525,000 has been allocated in this year’s county budget and the fiscal 2021 budget for replacing the Edgewood facility’s HVAC system, according to budget documents.

People in Aberdeen, as well as other communities such as Jarrettsville and Joppatowne, have been lobbying the county for years to build a recreation center. The former Aberdeen Senior Center — now called the Aberdeen Activity Center — on Franklin Street is serving as the city’s hub for programs for youths and senior citizens until a new facility is built.

The first installment of funding, $500,000 for engineering and design, is slated for fiscal 2021, according to the fiscal 2020 six-year capital improvement program adopted by the County Council in late May.

The total projected cost of a community center in Aberdeen is $9 million, with $8 million slated for construction in fiscal 2022 and a final $500,000 for equipping and furnishing the in fiscal 2023, according to the CIP.

The County Council, according to the text of Resolution 013-19, “hereby urges” the county executive to maintain the funding schedule laid out in the current capital improvement budget.

Glassman considers the Aberdeen center “a worthy project,” hence it is included in the six-year CIP, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby.

“In fact, the CIP includes many worthy projects, including the Joppatowne High School renovation and the Ma & Pa Trail connection,” Mumby wrote in an email Wednesday. “Therefore, the proposed resolution to single out one good project above all the others is confusing.”

Mumby emphasized that “there is no guarantee for funding in future years,” however.

“As with every intended project in the CIP, the county executive still has to make fiscally responsible decisions each year based on estimated revenue and expenditures, plus the economic outlook and state mandates,” she stated.

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