Harford County citizens took to the internet to offer their thoughts on what the county’s budgeting priorities should be at the county’s virtual budget town hall Thursday evening.
Harford County officials held the seventh annual budget town hall to solicit citizen input on priorities for the upcoming fiscal year 2022 budget. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the forum was held virtually, with some presenting live over the web and others opting to have their comments and requests read.
Historically, about half of the county’s general fund is spent on Harford County Public Schools, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman explained at the town hall. The school board decides how to spend that money, and the other half goes toward everything else: public safety, the library system, senior services and other county functions.
In his state of the county address earlier this month, Glassman prioritized funding the Harford County Sheriff’s Office’s request for body cameras and a long-awaited community center in Aberdeen. Though Harford County is in a good position to weather the oncoming fiscal year, Glassman said much is still uncertain.
“Our revenue is highly unpredictable due to the current public health crisis, but I plan to continue our support for education, public safety and strengthening our communities,” Glassman said.
Only two people spoke live on the broadcast — one recommending constructing a new facility for the Jarrettsville Recreation Council, and the other expressing concern over development at Abingdon Woods.
The most consistent issue at Thursday’s town hall was funding for the county’s libraries.
Genevieve Elder, who submitted written testimony, said the library has become a particularly useful resource since she began homeschooling her child in the wake of COVID-19. Contactless printing and the trove of books they have, she wrote, were of great help.
“Keeping that inventory current and growing is important,” she wrote.
Other comments requested aging infrastructure be prioritized and the school system’s budget be fully funded.
Harford County Public Schools’ Superintendent Sean Bulson’s proposed $521.7 million operating budget for next year includes a $295.3 million request in local funding, an $18.39 million increase from the current fiscal year.
Glassman’s 2020 budget town hall drew many more speakers, mainly teachers who came to make the case for increased funding to schools, but that level of participation is not the norm, county spokesperson Cindy Mumby said. This year’s number of speakers was closer to the norm, though the turnout was likely a tad lower because of the pandemic.
“We do think that certainly the pandemic is in the front of everyone’s mind, folks are very preoccupied with the struggles of everyday life,” Mumby said.
Anyone who missed the town hall can continue to submit their input via email at email@example.com until the budget is presented to the County Council in April.