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Harford County Council passes $1 billion budget funding schools, body cameras and broadband expansion

The Harford County Council unanimously approved its annual budget ordinance Tuesday night, marking the passage of a historically large budget that topped $1 billion for the first time.

County Executive Barry Glassman announced in a statement Wednesday that he would sign the council-approved $1.05 billion budget. Spokesperson Cindy Mumby said Glassman would likely sign the Fiscal Year 2022 budget Thursday, making it official. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

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Council President Patrick Vincenti said the council asked Glassman to take another look at the State’s Attorney’s Office, library system and board of elections, all of which received increases to their funding. Other council changes to the budget were “minor,” he said.

Mumby said the administration “assured the council we would keep an eye on these budgets and make adjustments if necessary after six months.”

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The council asked the county executive to reexamine those areas for a variety of reasons, Vincenti explained. The state’s attorney’s office will be bringing in new staff to handle body camera footage and may need to accelerate hiring when the work ramps up. The board of elections was also concerned about unfunded mandates put on them by the state, he said.

The budget fully funds the Harford County Board of Education’s operating budget request of $293.8 million in local funds, along with funding public safety at “record levels,” according to the county executive’s statement.

The budget also adopts the constant yield tax rate, which means the county will collect the same amount of money from property taxes as it did in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, but that the rate will decrease because of the rising assessments. The lower rate will save homeowners and business owners money, according to Glassman’s statement.

Historically, about half of the county’s revenues go toward its school system. The board of education’s operating budget request was fully funded in the last budget cycle as well. This year’s operating budget appropriation will be $16.8 million more than last year.

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Glassman previously said he would prioritize capital funding for body cameras for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, the Aberdeen activity center and expanding broadband in the north of the county in the coming fiscal year’s budget.

Under the finalized budget, staff at the sheriff’s office will also receive the wage bump of $3.1 million proposed in the draft budget to put pay at a competitive rate compared to other jurisdictions, Mumby said.

The county executive’s draft budget was $1.038 billion — notably larger than the current fiscal year’s nearly $948.3 million budget. Part of the reason it was so large was an influx of federal stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion federal relief package passed in March.

Glassman said he wanted to use the federal money on one-time expenses, like hastening the expansion of broadband, and not rely on it for recurring costs, understanding that the chances of another federal payout of this scope were slim. That gives the county the opportunity and capital to upgrade its infrastructure and undertake some capital projects to benefit public safety. About $10 million in federal funds will be used to expedite the broadband expansion, he said.

The current tax rate is $1.042 per $100 of assessed value. With the constant yield, the rate would drop to about $1.0279 outside of municipalities, according to Treasurer Robert Sandlass. That will translate to about a $41 saving on a tax bill for an average homeowner that has a property valued at about $290,000, he previously said.

Inside municipalities, the constant yield rate will go from $0.8937 to $0.8913, according to the county.

Body cameras will come at a $2.7 million expense to the sheriff’s office over five years to handle the footage’s storage and processing. The state’s attorney’s office, too, has requested more attorneys, legal assistants and technical experts to manage and prepare body camera footage for a prosecution.

At a work session on the budget, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said his office aims to have a fully operational program between November and the end of the year, eventually equipping 300 deputies with 600 cameras.

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office was mandated by the state to adopt body cameras by 2023, but Glassman included funding for them in this coming fiscal year’s proposed budget to stay ahead of the deadline. Officers with the Bel Air and Aberdeen police departments are already equipped with body worn cameras.

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