Harford County Executive Barry Glassman is working his contacts from 16 years as a state legislator in an effort to secure $150,000 in startup money for a project he says is a "pillar" of his new administration's commitments to education and the local farming community: Development of a county agricultural center.
Senate Bill 701 would provide $150,000 through the sale of state bonds as a "grant to the Board of Directors of the [Harford County] Agricultural Research & Exposition Foundation Inc. for the site preparation and site improvements of property, located in Harford County."
The center, Glassman explained earlier this week, likely would be a long-term project that could take years to finish. He said he did not initiate it while he was a legislator because "It should be a county project."
"This is part of our platform," he said. "It will be a STEM (science, technology, education, mathematics) center for farmers, where they can have laboratories, work on advanced agriculture degrees, study food safety and threats to the food supply from terrorism. There are a lot of federal contracts out there for food safety research."
He's seeking what amounts to seed money from the state to get it going and funneling it through a private, charitable foundation whose directors would be responsible for determining a future site and managing the project's development.
Glassman said the foundation approach will provide a wider range of fund-raising options, both from the public and private sectors, including corporate and foundation grants, because the county has limited resources to undertake any construction.
He previously announced the county would undertake no new capital projects during at least the first year of his administration, effectively putting an indefinite hold on the new Havre de Grace High and Middle School championed by his predecessor, David Craig, along with a second phase building for the Department of Emergency Services complex and a workforce center planned by Harford Community College.
The proposed ag center also would likely become home to local offices of state and federal agricultural agencies, such as the Cooperative Extension Service and USDA Farm Service Agency, both that are in privately-owned buildings for which the county pays rent.
Glassman said the center could become home to a year-round farmers market, one that would have kitchens available for vendors to sell prepared food, something they can't do at the weekly markets held at several locations in the county from spring through fall.
Ultimately, the center also could be used for livestock shows and the Farm Fair, although Glassman said the exposition component probably would be the last to be accomplished. He sent a trial balloon skyward a couple of years ago while he was a state senator, saying he thought the Farm Fair ought to relocate to a larger property from its 26-year home at the Harford County Equestrian Center just outside Bel Air.
Glassman operates a small sheep farm in Darlington, and the local ag community, which has considerable influence in county politics, has long been a part of his political base.
Glassman said the site for the center will be on land the county already owns. "We aren't going to buy a site; we don't have the money," he said. Although he wouldn't discuss specific sites, he did confirm one under consideration is 63 acres of farmland the county owns at the intersection of Routes 1 and 136 in Street, acquired for $1.4 million in 2009 that is leased for cultivation.
The county also owns hundreds of acres of farmland, purchased for recreational uses, including two farms along the Chesapeake Bay south of Havre de Grace and Edgeley Grove Farm in Fallston, though neither has good road access. Edgeley Grove borders the equestrian center.
The three sponsors of the state funding bill are the top leaders of the Senate, where Glassman served seven of the 16 years he was a legislator before being elected county executive: President Thomas "Mike" Miller, of Calvert County, and Majority Leader Catherine Pugh, of Baltimore City, both Democrats, and Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, a Republican, like Glassman.
Jennings, who represents western Harford and eastern Baltimore counties and served with Glassman in the Senate and the House of Delegates, says he is committed to seeing the bill through and believes that should Republican Gov. Larry Hogan make provision in the next budget for local bond issues proceeds, which is by no means a given, the seed money for the Harford project will stand a good chance of being funded.
"I think it does have some heavyweights behind it," Jennings said, noting that as a senator, Glassman had good working relationships with both Miller and Pugh, with whom he served on committees. It was Miller who provided the key legislative muscle last year for Harford to finally get authorization to collect a lodging tax, which Glassman implemented through legislation during his first six weeks as county executive.
Though he called the funding bill Glassman's initiative, Jennings said he "strongly supports" it, noting that Baltimore County has developed a similar ag center in the Oregon Ridge area that "is definitely a success."
Jennings is the point person on the bill. Pugh's office referred all questions about SB 701 to him, as did the office of northern Harford Sen. Wayne Norman.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee held a brief hearing on SB 701 on March 14, along with most of the myriad of local bond bills up for consideration this legislative session. County Director of Government and Community Relations Bret Schreiber and Michael Mason, agricultural business development associate in Schreiber's department both testified, Jennings said.
Mason served two years as deputy chief of staff in Glassman's Senate office before following him to county government, administration spokesperson Cindy Mumby said. He has been working on the ag center project, she said.
Nancy Giorno, a long-time county government lawyer who is a "temporary, part-time legislative liaison," according to Mumby, worked on drafting the bond bill legislation and on the incorporation of the new foundation.
According to articles of incorporation filed with the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, the Harford County Agricultural Research and Exposition Foundation was incorporated by James M. "Jay" Rickey, of Darlington, who is active in the Harford ag community and is a past-president of the local Farm Bureau and a member of the Harford Farm Fair board. The document is dated Dec. 4, 2014, three days after Glassman took office.
John Scarborough, the corporation's resident agent and a lawyer who practices in Churchville, said Giorno would be the best person to talk to about the foundation, although he said he is glad to be involved because Glassman "is trying to get some things moving ahead; there are a lot of positive things going on."