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County Executive: Harford on upswing, but some uncertainty remains

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman delivers his State of the County Address Tuesday evening in the Harford County Council chamber in Bel Air.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman delivers his State of the County Address Tuesday evening in the Harford County Council chamber in Bel Air. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman painted a hopeful picture of the county Tuesday night in Bel Air — school funding, fewer opioid deaths and more money flowing through the county — but the good news was tempered.

“I would add a word of caution here. As our revenues grow, albeit mostly one-time revenues, there will be a temptation to further accelerate spending,” Glassman said in his address. “We are in the longest economic expansion ever and most economists say it is not a matter of if, but just when we see some flattening or downturn in growth.”

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But the specter of short-term gains and the Kirwan Commission’s plan to improve public schools did not hang over the meeting, where Glassman commended the county for another year of growth and lauded new initiatives to provide more money to schools, incentivize volunteer first responders and fight environmental degradation around Havre de Grace.

While the results of the Kirwan Commission cannot be predicted, Glassman said he has been socking county money away in case the cost is high.

“Based on very rosy projections, Harford’s additional cost with teacher pensions would be around $10 million at the end of the phase-in,” Glassman said, though the final cost is unknown.

Financial stability to accommodate costs of education is a county priority, said County Council President Patrick S. Vincenti. Whatever the Kirwan plan turns out to be, he said, county coffers should have some padding.

In his speech following Glassman, Vincenti said a vibrant local economy is necessary for keeping children’s educations funded in the area.

“You have to have some sort of fund for a rainy day,” he said after the hearing. “And that could be education.”

He said he saw potential for the Route 40 corridor, which could help support the county’s efforts by improving the infrastructure and shoring up buildings there.

Glassman also highlighted pay increases to government workers, police and corrections officers, while the county paid off more debt than it took on over the year.

The upturn, he said after the announcement, could partially be attributed by trimming the county’s workforce and popping the brakes on some capital projects while the county endured a recession.

“After five years of some pretty hard fiscal times, we are finally back and standing,” he said.

Public safety was also in the spotlight Tuesday. Opioid deaths in the first nine months of 2019 declined by 32%, Glassman said. And he introduced a new student loan repayment assistance program targeting volunteer first responders, which would reimburse college graduates up to $20,000 over four years.

The county’s existing loan assistance program covering EMS workers will be extended to firefighters as well.

After the announcement, County Councilman Joseph Woods said the incentive to volunteer first responders was a “great start.”

Glassman also announced a partnership between Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, Harford County and Havre de Grace to curb erosion along the Susquehanna River’s upper banks using plants that grow in the environment. The county will contribute $500,000 to the project, he said.

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Project manager Chris Becraft of Annapolis-based Underwood & Associates, said one breakwater has already been constructed and funded by the MDNR. Using marshland plants that root into banks, beaches and shores, Becraft said erosion can be naturally stymied.

“You embrace the energies of the tidewater,” he said, instead of constructing unnatural barriers.

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