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In virtual address, Glassman says Harford successfully navigated rough financial waters of COVID-19 pandemic

In this screengrab, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman delivers the 2021 State of the County address virtually, via a prerecorded message.
In this screengrab, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman delivers the 2021 State of the County address virtually, via a prerecorded message.

At the annual state of the county address Tuesday, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said the past year has been a successfully negotiated challenge, and though the coming year is full of uncertainty, the next budget will prioritize funding for body cameras for sheriff’s deputies and a long-awaited community center in Aberdeen.

Tuesday night, in a pre-recorded message for the Harford County Council, Glassman said fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1, is difficult to gauge between the possibilities of the virus spreading further, the speed of a vaccine rollout, any federal aid to come and state restrictions on businesses.

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The possibility of state cuts and cost-shifts onto counties are also unclear as the General Assembly gears up for its legislative session, which will begin Wednesday.

“In the past it was possible to sense a prevailing wind in the economy that would last a year or two,” Glassman said. “Now it is difficult to see trends from quarter to quarter.”

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In his roughly 12-minute address, Glassman credited conservative spending and saving for putting the county in a strong financial position to weather the coming year, with the county’s fund balance restored to its pre-pandemic level of $25 million while accomplishing budgetary goals in FY21. In the current fiscal year′s budget, Glassman fully funded the school board’s operating budget request and funded salary increases at the sheriff’s office.

Cuts have not been necessary, he said, nor has the county had to dip into its reserves.

Glassman was nearing completion of the current year’sbudget when the pandemic struck, he said, and some capital projects had to be put on hold. In FY21, the county’s capital budget was reduced by approximately $11 million from the previous year’s — a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.

The next budget, he said, will move forward with funding body cameras for the sheriff’s office as well as plans for a new Aberdeen Community Center, a long-sought project that was put off in 2020.

The sheriff’s office has requested body cameras for years, but equipping deputies with the technology is an expensive proposition. Beyond the price of the cameras are costs associated with storing the footage and hiring additional personnel to manage the program.

In response to a list of recommendations sent to county law enforcement agencies in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, the sheriff’s office estimated equipping 300 deputies with body cameras would cost $5 million over five years. A 2015 pilot program equipping 10 deputies with body cameras has since become permanent. The sheriff’s office also currently uses in-car cameras.

In October 2019, Aberdeen’s City Council voted to move forward with a $1.2 million purchase of about 13 acres along West Bel Air Avenue, where they expect the community center to be built. Aberdeen officials did so anticipating Harford County to fund construction of the recreation center. The county previously pledged $500,000 to the project’s planning and $8 million for its construction.

Glassman also pointed to the distribution of nearly $45 million in federal CARES Act money as an accomplishment of the past year. That money went to a variety of grants for businesses, support for community organizations, help for the board of education, relief for residents behind on their water bills and other uses.

At first, the state was reluctant to release the federal money directly to smaller local counties, which drew objections from county leaders throughout Maryland. Eventually, the state relented and gave local jurisdictions the authority to spend the money.

Over the course of 61 executive orders issued by Gov. Larry Hogan, Glassman said, Harford County government did not close.

The county’s income tax revenue is also holding steady, Glassman said, and property tax revenue is on target to continue the trend of 2% annual growth. Transfer and recordation tax revenues are also strong, reflecting a desirable housing market in the county,” he said.

“What I can say is we have built a solid ship with a resilient local economy, and my conservative budgeting has restored strong reserves without tax increases as we made record-level investments in education, public safety and local businesses,” said Glassman, who titled his State of the County address “Leading in Rough Waters.”

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“I do not plan on changing course, turning back or lowing our sails,” he said.

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