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Aberdeen mayor to meet with Harford County Council members about funding for proposed activity center

Aberdeen mayor to meet with Harford County Council members about funding for proposed 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)

Before Aberdeen purchases a 13-acre parcel on West Bel Air Avenue, its mayor will be meeting with each Harford County Council member next week to ensure their commitment to funding a new activity center in the city.

The City of Aberdeen has a contract to buy the Mitchell estate for $1.2 million with the goal that it be the site of an activity center for the community, similar to centers already in Havre de Grace, Fallston, Bel Air and other communities. City leaders also intend to develop an urban park on the site.

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“In reality, it is intended to be the home of the recreation center the county is going to fund,” Mayor Patrick McGrady said at Monday’s Aberdeen City Council meeting.

At least one resident questioned the purchase of the site at Monday’s meeting and wants the city to put that $1.2 million toward improvements at Aberdeen Swim Center and make it a better facility.

The city approved the contract at its June 17 meeting, which included a 90-day study period to determine if city officials want to move forward.

“There have been murmurs from the county that because our council member voted against the county executive’s budget, the county executive would not submit the recreation center into the budget from the capital plan for next year,” McGrady said. “We have 90 days to determine if the county is going to do this.”

Harford Councilman Robert Wagner, whose district includes Aberdeen, voted against the FY2019-2020 budget, which went into effect July 1. Councilman Andre Johnson also voted against the budget.

The county’s long-term budget includes $500,000 for planning in FY2020-2021 and $8 million for construction of the activity center in FY2021-2022.

“It is true that the county executive was disappointed that the councilmen from Aberdeen and Edgewood voted against this year’s budget, which is providing salary increases for teachers, law enforcement and county employees,” Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for Harford County Government, said. “But at this early stage, no decisions have been made on the budget for next year. It will depend on estimated county revenues and expenses at the time, plus the overall economic outlook.”

McGrady spoke before the Harford County Council at its June 18 meeting.

“In the next 90 days, it’s important to the City of Aberdeen and all of her residents that we have a true understanding of the County Council’s willingness to fund this project at the $500,000 in FY 2021 and $8 million in FY 2022," McGrady told the council during the public comment portion of the meeting.

"Your candor and support are crucial to our decision as to whether we can proceed to settlement or must abandon the effort. So, with that, I look forward to working with you in the next 90 days to get your individual feedback on this.”

McGrady said he has meetings set with each county council members on July 16 “to ascertain if they’re going to fulfill what’s in their capital plan, build what’s going to be built, so Aberdeen is not left out again.”

If he, the city council and county council are comfortable that the Harford County Council will fund the project, the Aberdeen council will move forward with settlement on the Mitchell property, he said.

Once those wheels are in motion, the city council will create a committee to survey the community to determine programming needs “so when funds are allocated to the project, the county knows what the city demands as it relates to services we have year compared to other places,” McGrady said.

Nancy Merritt said Aberdeen already has enough parks and encouraged them to invest the money elsewhere.

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“I am here to let the mayor and city council and other officials, the community know I am opposed to plans for an urban park in Aberdeen,” Merritt told the council Monday.

Merritt, who is involved with the Aberdeen dive team, said the money for the park site should be put back into the Aberdeen Swim Center, which the city was trying to sell recently, and “we could have a world-class facility,” the only 50-meter swimming pool in Harford or Cecil counties with springboard diving.

The funding could be used to enclose the facility so it could be used all year, she said.

“The location would also support an activity center,” Merritt said. Sports fields for soccer, lacrosse, basketball and others could be accommodated as well.

She admitted the city “absolutely” needs an activity center, but questioned what would be involved. Would it be a recreation-type center where kids can participate in sports, crafts and attend summer camps, she asked. She also said she’s not sure how many people would walk or bike to it because of its location on West Bel Air Avenue.

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