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Harford County has been leasing space in the Swan Creek Village Center for the Health Department's Care Coordination office after its Aberdeen building flooded.
Harford County has been leasing space in the Swan Creek Village Center for the Health Department's Care Coordination office after its Aberdeen building flooded. (BRYNA ZUMER | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

After Harford County's previous administration did not end up building a consolidated Health Department building in Edgewood, as was once planned, the department's activities continue to operate in leased offices dispersed throughout the county at a cost of more than $1.3 million annually.

Two divisions of the Health Department, the Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program and the Care Coordination program, moved to Havre de Grace's Swan Creek Village Center off Route 40 in November 2015. That move kept both services in the eastern Route 40 area, close to Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, where they are most needed, a county government spokesperson said.

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The programs had been forced out of the former Aberdeen Community Services building, at Route 40 and Franklin Street, a year earlier after the building flooded because of a plumbing problem.

The Harford County Council has introduced a resolution that would transfer the original Aberdeen High School building to the City of Aberdeen, as discussed by city and county officials earlier.

The county government is now moving ahead to surplus that building, the original home of Aberdeen High School, to the City of Aberdeen for $1. Aberdeen city officials haven't said what they will do with the building, whose need for extensive pluming repairs was cited by county officials in their decision to vacate it.

The move of the two health programs increased the amount of space the county has leased at Swan Creek Center since County Executive Barry Glassman took office in late 2014. The center's principal owners are two Glassman political supporters, Dr. Richard Streett Jr. and Robert Hockaday. The county also continues to lease space in other buildings, a situation that some critics say is more costly in the long run than if the government would build its own facilities.

Two divisions of the Harford County Health Department are expected to move to a shopping center on Route 40 in Havre de Grace, joining the Office of Economic Development, which has also been renting space there since the spring.

Swan Creek Village Center also houses the county's Economic Development Office, which moved there from Bel Air in early 2015. At the time of that move, Glassman said the economic development activities should be closer to Aberdeen Proving Ground and its growing military contractor base, as well as the county's developing Route 40 industrial corridor. Glassman, through a spokesperson, has denied political considerations played a part in the Swan Creek leasing decisions.

For the health department at Swan Creek Village Center, the county pays $62,567.88 annually for rent, taxes and maintenance of the 3,100-square-foot WIC office, as well as $96,992.28 for rent, taxes and maintenance of the 4,850-square-foot Care Coordination office, county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said last month. The state pays BGE costs for both offices.

The county pays $301,962.60 for rent, taxes and maintenance of the 12,645-square-foot economic development office, plus BGE costs.

Aberdeen's city council wants to move forward with taking over a building that has been used for Harford County community services off of Philadelphia Boulevard, across from the Aberdeen Senior Center.

Mumby noted the county also gets a rental income from sub-tenants, start-up companies who use some of the economic development space which serves as a so-called business incubator. Because they are on a month-to-month basis, the county gets an average income of $60,000 to $70,000 annually from those tenants, she said.

"We put this out for bid through procurement," she said about the decision to bring the health department divisions to Swan Creek, explaining the county received three proposals and the health department administration agreed the Havre de Grace site was close to Aberdeen, as well as being close to an Upper Chesapeake Health clinic location and a bus stop.

Although the local health department is considered part of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the county is still responsible for much of its operating costs, including providing adequate space for its operations.

Outside of Swan Creek, the county pays $1,168,102.56 in annual leases for health department offices, according to Mumby.

With Aberdeen next in line to get a new community center, the city is working with the county to see if it's feasible to use the old Aberdeen High School for such a facility, Aberdeen's mayor said Monday.

Those leases include two units for a storage facility at 1007 block of Edgewood Road in Edgewood; 14,000 square feet for Clinical Services at 1321 Woodbridge Center Way in Edgewood, which is the department's administrative headquarters; 4,911 square feet for the dental clinic at 2204 Hanson Road in Edgewood, 3,400 square feet for health services at 1 North Main Street in Bel Air; and 26,898 square feet at 120 Hays Street in Bel Air.

Mumby said the health department pays two-thirds of the cost for the leases for the dental clinic, health services and addiction services at 120 Hays St.

The latter building is across the street from the former health department headquarters, a 1950s era building that was razed following years of deterioration. At the time it was torn down, the previous county administration of county executive David Craig planned to eventually consolidate all health department operations at a four-story building and adjoining parking garage proposed next to the Sheriff's Office Southern Precinct station on Route 40 in Edgewood.

Harford County's Office of Economic Development has completed a move to be where the action is, close to Aberdeen Proving Ground and in the midst of a group of business start-ups, county leaders said during the office's public unveiling Tuesday at the Swan Creek Village Center in Havre de Grace.

By the time Craig left office in late 2014, however, support for funding the multi-million dollar health building had waned among members of the last County Council, whose president, Billy Boniface, moved on to become Glassman's director of administration.

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As council president, Boniface had questioned the affordability of the health department building after the county had borrowed millions to construct the Southern Precinct building, expand the Abingdon Water Treatment and to build a new emergency operations center in Hickory, among other projects completed during Craig's tenure.

Glassman's administration has "no interest to consolidate health offices at this time," Mumby said. "As you know, that capital project is not moving forward."

Harford County's new administration is consolidating all its economic development agencies under one roof in a shopping center on Route 40 between Aberdeen and Havre de Grace that is owned by two political supporters of County Executive Barry Glassman.

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