County employees packed the Harford County Council chambers Tuesday night as several union representatives urged the council to support a 4 percent raise for all of them.
Those employees loudly applauded every word of support that came their way.
During his presentation to the council on Harford County Executive David Craig's proposed 4 percent merit increase, human resources director Scott Gibson said the county reopened negotiations with both of its unions. He noted outside agencies, like the sheriff's office and the public library system, may award them differently, such as a cost-of-living increase, because they have many employees who are contractual or part-time.
The increase would be retroactive to July 1.
The council held a public hearing on the measure, but did not vote on it.
Bel Air resident John Mallamo praised the idea and said if the raise did not happen, employees might pick up and go elsewhere. He got a loud round of applause from the audience.
He also asked for the employees to get the money prior to the Christmas holiday and asked for them to get the maximum amount possible, and "that they don't see an increase in taxes, pensions, health care, parking fees, water bottles or whatever else."
Ryan Burbey, the new head of the Harford County Education Association teachers' union, also congratulated the workers for negotiating a raise and said he hopes to have a "transparent" budget process moving forward.
Mike Hiob, speaking on behalf of the MCEA (Maryland Classified Employees Association), said he also supports the bill, as did Kevin Thomas of the Harford County Deputy Sheriff's Union.
Property tax credits
The council also approved property tax credits for several Havre de Grace and Aberdeen properties in "enterprise zones."
The sites include 301 S. Juniata St. in Havre de Grace, owned by Toy Thym Properties LLC, 1300 Revolution St. in Havre de Grace, owned by Cytec Engineered Materials Inc., and 1013 Beards Hill Road, owned by WCT & Sons LLC.
Economic development director Jim Richardson said the projects are "excellent" because existing sites will be redeveloped, and Councilman Dick Slutzky commended the possibility of rebuilding on the Aberdeen site especially.
"This is a beautiful addition. This kind of project can't do anything but uplift the community, bring jobs to the area and bring the kind of jobs we want in Harford County," Slutzky said.
Public safety committee
Council President Billy Boniface said he received Craig's executive order to create the new public safety committee.
Boniface said he wants a briefing on the executive order and he wants it to be made publicly on Dec. 4.
"Mind you, the council has due diligence to look at these executive orders," he said. "If we do not take action to deny it within 60 days, then it becomes codified in law."
"Since this is a change of directions, not a confrontational one, let's make sure everyone is aware" of what the executive order entails, Boniface said, adding he would allow for some public comment that night.
Craig issued the order after the council voted down his proposal of the public safety committee.
Besides hearings on several properties to be bought by the county for its agricultural preservation program, the council also accepted a donation of the roughly 32-acre Stephen Pieper family farm into the program, which is the first such donation made since the county made the option available, legislative liaison Nancy Giorno said.
Council President Billy Boniface noted the owner does get some tax benefits, however.
The farm, on Troyer Road in White Hall, has three development rights and includes another 8-acre parcel with one more development right.
"The reason it's being done is he's surrounded by all ag [preservation] farms," Giorno said, adding the farm would never rank high enough to qualify for being purchased by the county.
The council appointed James Antal to the board for the Office on Mental Health.
It also introduced several bills, including another piece of legislation dealing with properties near the Magnolia Road Waste-to-Energy Facility, for which Councilman Dion Guthrie has been trying to get property tax credits.
Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti talked about the seven county ballot questions on the recent election ballot, saying the "most significant" was the lifting of the moratorium on council members working with the public on zoning cases.
She thanked "the electorate for supporting the council on those ballot questions."
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Councilman Dick Slutzky said November is American Indian Heritage Month and the county has American Indian residents.
"We recognize the invaluable contributions of Native Americans to the state of Maryland," he said.
He also congratulated both the winners and losers of the recent election, saying: "It takes a choice for democracy to work and we certainly have opportunities in this nation for people to have a choice."
The council proclaimed School Psychology Awareness Week, which prompted Burbey to note that the proclamation only recognizes the 33 employees who are school psychologists.
"There are 54 schools. What about the other schools?" he said, highlighting the absence of psychologists from all schools.
He also again pointed out that Harford County "ranks ninth in term of overall achievement" and hoped for better from the council in the future.
"In the past, education has not been the number one priority here," he said.