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Harford council hears pleas for better services in Edgewood, Joppatowne

Christine and Bernard Holthaus, of Edgewood, talk with Harford County Councilman Mike Perrone, left, after a County Council public hearing on the county's fiscal 2018 budget Thursday at Joppatowne High School.
Christine and Bernard Holthaus, of Edgewood, talk with Harford County Councilman Mike Perrone, left, after a County Council public hearing on the county's fiscal 2018 budget Thursday at Joppatowne High School.(David Anderson / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Residents of Edgewood and Joppatowne urged the Harford County Council to increase funding for schools, traffic safety, reaction and senior citizen centers and drug treatment during the first of two public hearings hosted by the council on the county's fiscal 2018 budget.

"We're willing to work with the county to do many things, but we ask that you listen to us," Adam Shellenbarger, preacher at Joppatowne Christian Church, said.

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Shellenbarger was one of seven people who spoke during the nearly 30-minute hearing in the auditorium of Joppatowne High School. About 25 people from the community were in the audience, as were officials from Harford County Public Schools, members of the Board of Education and officials from the county government administration.

The seven council members sat at tables on the stage and listened to the speakers. They stuck around for about another half hour after the hearing ended to talk one-on-one with some of the attendees.

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Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has submitted a $692.1 million operating budget and a $118.9 million capital budget for next year.

The council, which can cut funding for various departments but can't increase any spending, except for the school system's allotment of funding, must adopt the budgets before the next fiscal year begins July 1 or they will stand as submitted by the county executive.

The Harford County Council reviewed the budget for the volunteer fire companies recently, and a fire service official reiterated the volunteers' commitment at a time when the county is preparing to transition to a county-run EMS system.

"One of the things that I'm told over and over and over and over again is to advocate for this area, and so I'm here to that," Shellenbarger said.

He serves as president of the Joppatowne Development and Heritage Corporation, plus he is a substitute teacher at Joppatowne High and he helps with the school musical and is a coach for the academic competition team.

"Here at this school, we have a lot of needs," he said, noting the high number of students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.

Hazel Morgan, the former president of the Joppatowne Recreation Council and a longtime advocate for more recreational opportunities for local children, echoed Shellenbarger's concerns about the high school.

She encouraged council members to support the school's signature Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Program and an Army Junior ROTC program — the school system applied to the Army last spring to establish the JROTC program.

Morgan focused her comments on bringing a youth recreation center and a senior center, facilities she noted are available in other parts of the county, to Joppatowne.

"Why does our community not have what we need both for our seniors and for our young people?" she asked. "Are we not as important as Bel Air, Edgewood, Fallston, north Harford, Forest Hill?"

Mike O'Hern, a resident of the Harbor Oaks community in Edgewood and president of the Edgewood Development Corporation, urged council members to increase funding for traffic calming devices and improved lighting in communities.

The Harford County Public Schools proposed fiscal 2018 budget was the subject of a nearly two-hour review during a work session before the Harford County Council Monday.

He cited his concerns about a neighboring community, Lord Willoughby's Rest, from which many children walk to the nearby Edgewood High School, Edgewood Middle School and Deerfield Elementary School, which are all next to each other along Willoughby Beach Road.

O'Hern said he has observed many drivers speeding as they take shortcuts through the residential area.

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He said Lord Willoughby's Rest community leaders "are asking for the least expensive traffic calming items, that is the traffic hump or the traffic cushion, to stop these vehicles from traveling at excessive speeds through their housing areas."

O'Hern stressed the need for improved street lighting as a deterrent to property crime, recalling an incident about a year ago when he observed several people going through his community around 4:30 a.m. "flipping locks" to find unlocked vehicles.

He said traffic safety had been a topic of concern during a recent town hall meeting with Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler. The Edgewood Development Corporation hosted the meeting.

Denise Perry, a resident of Edgewood, told council members Harford's heroin scourge is another topic of concern in her community.

Perry focused her comments on the county's allocation for its Office of Drug Control Policy.

The Office of Drug Control Policy is part of the Department of Community Services. Glassman will allocate $1.11 million next year, and the office's goals include reaching 10,000 youths and 6,000 adults through "prevention outreach and recovery support" efforts, supporting court programs for youth and adult drug and alcohol offenders, applying for $500,000 in federal and state grants related to substance abuse and raising community awareness to prevent opioid abuse and drug overdoses.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman introduced his budget for fiscal 2018 Monday.

"I ask that if there is a problem here that you address it not by control; we have enough control," Perry said, asking if "control" meant a greater police presence.

She asked if any money in the budget would be used for drug treatment.

"I would ask that you please provide more services here," she said. "I am proud to be part of Edgewood, and I think a lot of people in here are proud to be part of Joppatowne and Edgewood, and I think you need to show it by putting more money down here."

Council members also heard from representatives of the unions representing Harford County Sheriff's Office corrections officers and law enforcement deputies, who expressed their thanks to Glassman for proving funding for the first year of a two-year effort to increase deputies' salaries that have been stagnant for years.

Glassman is also funding 4 percent merit increases for eligible county employees, plus he has earmarked part of his funding for the school system for teacher salaries.

"Like you, serving on the County Council, our union members did not enter into public service to get rich," Mike Montalvo, president of the Harford Deputy Sheriffs Union, said. "They became deputies because they have a calling within them to help others, to serve and protect . . . we are only asking for fair compensation for their service."

He thanked council members for their service to the community.

"Thank you sir, and thank the officers for their service to this community, we appreciate it," Council President Richard Slutzky replied.

A second public hearing on the budget will be Thursday, May 11 at 7 p.m. at Fallston High School.

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