Harford County Executive Barry Glassman says his first year in the top local elected office fulfilled a long-held dream.
"It's been an amazing year," Glassman, a Republican, said during an interview session with Aegis reporters and editors Wednesday in his third-floor office in downtown Bel Air. The office is filled with sheep-themed items in a nod to his Darlington farm, but also is not lacking in waterfowl carvings and other tributes to his personal and his county's varied history.
Glassman said he's wanted to be the elected leader for a long time, back to his days as a student at Havre de Grace Middle School.
Reflecting on the 365 days since he took office in December 2014, Glassman said he has been a lot busier in his first year running the county government than any year as a legislator.
As for a run at the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Barbara Mikulski, Glassman said he's not ready to make any announcements.
He commissioned a poll that he previously said was encouraging, but declined to say definitively Wednesday if he is a candidate for the Republican nomination.
"I haven't decided," he said. "I'm still thinking about it."
"I'm happy where I am, but I'm being pulled in different directions. Stay tuned for the State of the County address," he said, adding that is where he plans to make an announcement.
The HarfordNEXT plan, spearheaded by Planning and Zoning Director Brad Killian, was unveiled this spring with the goal of streamlining the master plan and comprehensive rezoning processes.
Glassman believes he has "set the tone that we are going to run this kind of like a business" and is pushing forward with new initiatives, including trying to revive development at the stalled James Run corporate site near I-95 and establishing an agricultural research and exposition center on a northern Harford property the county owns at the Dublin crossroads of Routes 1 and 136.
He does want the county to establish a "STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) for farmers" program and recently introduced a bill to permit craft brewing on local farms, noting that Harford appears to be an emerging leader in the craft brewing craze.
The County Council passed Glassman's $642.3 million operating budget for Fiscal Year 2016 in May, a $14.8 million increase over his predecessor David Craig's final budget. Glassman's first budget included modest merit-based pay increases for employees, fulfilling one goal he emphasized in campaigning for county executive.
Under the current economic climate, he said he believes the county can sustain annual revenue growth of 2-3 percent.
The capital budget, meanwhile, fell by $16.1 million, as Glassman said he wanted to step back, borrow less each year and reduce the county's overall debt, as some earlier bond issues mature.
That ruffled feathers when one the previously approved projects put hold was a replacement building for Havre de Grace High and Middle schools that Glassman himself attended. He said, however, he remains committed to starting the project before his term ends in late 2018.
"I'm paying for a lot of the other guys' projects," he said in reference to the county's debt, which sits at $668 million, not counting interest.
Other economic efforts featured helping the Town of Bel Air move forward from its water supply issue, which prompted a building moratorium, by encouraging work on a reservoir, or "impoundment," on the Mt. Soma property off of Route 1 between Bel Air and Benson.
Glassman's administration made the request to sell 68.6 acres of the county-owned Mt. Soma property near Bel Air to Maryland American Water, a private company that supplies water to the Town of Bel Air and neighboring areas.
He also brought to an end the years of political wrangling by implementing a 6 percent countywide lodging tax and has already awarded $1.4 million in grants to local nonprofits from that revenue to boost tourism.
From the outset of his term, Glassman declared the county must tackle a local heroin epidemic, particularly by offering access to more affordable recovery options, that has affected many of its young people,.
He boldly addressed the growing problem in his inaugural speech and has since spearheaded an outreach campaign to middle-school families, billboards and cooperation with the sheriff's heroin task force.
He said the drug continues to ravage communities and families throughout the county.
The September town hall on heroin drew a standing-room-only crowd to Harford Community College, where Glassman vowed to "slay this Goliath, this dragon of heroin."
Glassman noted he dedicated $100,000 in the 2016 budget to fight heroin, becoming the first county executive to do so.
He has also secured more than $560,000 in state grants for drug awareness and prevention.
His latest effort includes Project Healthy Delivery, which targets pregnant women dealing with drug or alcohol addiction.
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Glassman said he is saving taxpayers about $194,000 annually by outsourcing management of the county website and another nearly $360,000 annually by reducing leased space, as well as offering other efficiencies like moving the government off of a mainframe computer system and eliminating the Chief of Staff position.
His most prominent move toward efficiency was to outsource landfill and recycling operations, which was entrusted to the Maryland Environmental Service. That meant working with unions and maintaining a good rapport with a variety of employees, something that he was less used to doing while working in the private sector.
He said he heard a fair amount of complaints about customer service upon coming to office, and there was "a general malaise" among employees.
He offered an early retirement incentive that was accepted by 73 employees at a cost of $4.5 million. Most of those positions have been eliminated, as were the 46 at the landfill.
He noted the county worked with MES to find positions for the landfill workers, some who also found jobs in other county positions that had been vacant.
"It's not always easy being the boss," he said.