As an appointed commission prepares to offer recommendations to redraw Harford County’s councilmanic districts, leaders of the county’s three municipalities requested to be put in their own districts or districts that have similar priorities.
Meeting on June 30, representatives from Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and Bel Air each signaled to the redistricting commission that they would prefer to see municipalities fully consolidated into their designated district and collocated with like-minded communities.
Speaking for Aberdeen, Councilman Adam Hiob said the city wanted to see a more compact district around it. Currently, Aberdeen occupies District E, which also includes Churchville, Fountain Green, Prospect Mill, a small portion of Bel Air and other areas.
But Aberdeen is different from its neighbors and is expected to approve multiple annexations and scores of homes within its borders in the coming years, Hiob said. Placing it in a district with other communities that do not want to see growth puts them at odds.
“It is hard to have a district that is so opposite of the rest of the district,” he said.
Hiob said Aberdeen’s district could include the Route 40 corridor, which is more similar to the city than the district’s current makeup. Aberdeen is included in a district that stretches into the center of the county. One possibility floated by board member Jim Thornton was making Aberdeen and Havre de Grace part of the same district. Hiob said he had not discussed the prospect with the wider city council, but he personally had no objection to it.
Havre de Grace Mayor William Martin said he could see Aberdeen and Havre de Grace joining the same district, but that was not an ideal solution. Understanding that census data is not yet available to the redistricting commission, he said the commission should start redrawing District F with the Route 40 corridor.
District F’s current vertical configuration cuts down through Aberdeen Proving Ground and swoops in toward the center of the county, which Martin asked the commission to reevaluate.
In a letter to the commission, Martin said Havre de Grace was not opposed to sharing a district with another city but asked the commission to consider “the common interest and resources municipalities may share” when making that determination.
The district relies on Aberdeen Proving Ground to stay contiguous, with the base connecting the western and northern parts of the district. Martin said the rules on contiguity should be re-examined and that councilmanic districts should stay as close as possible to school districts.
If possible, Martin said he would like Aberdeen and Havre de Grace to stay in separate districts but could see them in the same one if population ceilings on councilmanic districts require it.
“We do share a lot of resources with Aberdeen and at the end of the day if the numbers determine that we have to combine with Aberdeen, we would be happy to,” he said.
Aberdeen and Havre de Grace signed a landmark water agreement last year, the first time two county municipalities agreed to buy and sell water between themselves.
Martin said the citizens of Havre de Grace felt “disenfranchised” in the current layout and that the district was “a classic example of gerrymandering.” A letter sent to the commission from the city described District F as “uniquely shaped,” but Martin was more blunt at the hearing.
“The other areas of our county can outvote us on pretty much anything they want,” he said.
Bel Air Mayor Amy Chmielewski said the town wanted to be in one councilmanic district. The town extends into two precincts outside of District C, which comprises the bulk of Bel Air; Chmielewski said they ought to be in the same district as the rest of the town.
“Everybody knows Bel Air — it’s three miles — it should be all in the same district,” she said.
The county’s charter states that councilmanic districts must be re-established every 10 years. Because the last redrawing was in 2012, the boundaries are being redrawn for the 2022 election by a council-appointed commission.
The commission tasks two Republicans, two Democrats and one person of the council’s choosing to prepare a plan and report on the redistricting.
According to a memo sent to the commission, it must have a plan to present the council by Oct. 1. The deadline troubled some of the commission members, according to meeting minutes — compounded by the delay in U.S. Census data reaching the commission. According to the minutes, it will be mid-to-late August before the commission receives the Census data in legacy format.