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Editorial: County should commit to funding activity center in Aberdeen

Officials with the City of Aberdeen are in an interesting predicament.

In mid-June, the city council voted to spend $1.2 million for a 13 acres of land along West Bel Air Avenue known as the Mitchell Estate. The hope was that the land would be home for an urban park as well as a future Aberdeen Activity Center

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The activity center would be paid for by Harford County government.

“This project will provide a multi-purpose center to serve leisure needs for all ages in the Aberdeen community,” according to the county's capital budget for FY2020. It would be designed similar to those in Bel Air, Havre de Grace and Fallston to be used by the county’s Office of Aging and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

The problem is the city lacks a commitment from county government, particularly the administration, that said funding will come to fruition in the near future regardless of whether Aberdeen goes through with the Mitchell property purchase.

According to county budget documents, $500,000 is budgeted in FY2021 for engineering and design, with $8 million in FY2022 for construction and $500,000 in FY2023 for equipment and furniture.

Of course, that money has been on the books for a while — design funding for the project has been in the county budget since FY2009, to be spent in FY2015. In the FY2010 budget it was pushed to FY2016, and in FY2014 it was pushed to FY2019.

Mayor Patrick McGrady recently met with Harford County Council President Patrick Vincenti and Councilmen Andre Johnson and Robert Wagner to solicit support for the activity center, which he received. He is hoping to set up a meeting with County Executive Barry Glassman in the near future.

Vincenti agreed the project is "long overdue" for Harford's largest municipality, and the three county councilman issued vocal support.

The Glassman administration offered no commitments, however. “The county executive is not making a commitment beyond this fiscal year,” spokeswoman Cynthia Mumby told us. “It’s in the Capital Improvement Plan, but he can’t make a guarantee.”

But the clock is ticking for Aberdeen. From the time of its vote June 17, the city has 90 days to complete a feasibility study on the site and could back out if it determines the site won't work.

Understandably, city officials would like some assurances that after spending the money to acquire the land, the county will follow through with funding needed to develop it into an asset for the city.

McGrady has pushed the city council to make clear the project is a priority for the Aberdeen. "Because if we don’t push this, it’s possible, I would argue likely, it gets pushed another 10 years. We have to stay on top of this so the county funds it in the next budget cycle," he told members of the council at their most recent meeting July 22.

We think this is valuable project for the youth of Aberdeen and would like to see more of a commitment from the administration, however, we understand his reluctance. Like McGrady, we would encourage not just the city’s elected officials, but also residents who would benefit from the activity center, to write county officials and tell them why this is an important investment.

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