The County Council approved spending $275,000 to buy a recreational area next to the site of the Route 543 elementary school in a 5-1 vote.

During debate on the issue, two council members said they were upset at having to vote on such legislation when state dollars could have been used to buy the parcel if negotiations to buy the land had been conducted with more speed.

Councilman Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, and Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson, a Republican, said if negotiations had concluded by December or January, state money could have been used to pay for the recreation site.

The property is near the Greenridge and Fountain Glen communities on Route 543 near Crescent Drive.

Harford County administrators had planned to use state Project Open Space dollars to help pay for the land, which will be used for ball fields and other recreational activities by the county Department of Parks and Recreation.

Project Open Space is a state program designed to buy and preserve areas of undeveloped land for recreational use, but spending was cut this spring in an effort to reduce the state deficit.

"Every single dollar spent on this project should be blamed on the previous administration," said Wagner, as he cast his vote at the Tuesday County Council meeting."If the deal had been finalized even in December or January, it would have meant a savings of $275,000 for the county."

Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton, R-District A, was absent.

It is the second time in two months that controversy has arisen over the purchase of a school site and the speed at which the county and the Board of Education have moved to acquire property.

In July, a Forest Hill landowner threatened to sell his 15-acre parcel on Route 24to another buyer unless the school system said it would definitely buy the site.

The county has said it is thinking of building the proposed Forest Lakes elementary school there.

The landowner, WintonOsborne, said two years had passed since the county first contacted him about buying the land, and the county had missed its deadline.

In a letter to school Superintendent Ray R. Keech, Osborne gave the county and the Board of Education another deadline; they had until Sept. 15 to make an offer and settle.

Although the deadline has passed with no settlement, William G. Carroll, director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, said, "We are still working on thatwith Mr. Osborne.

"We have told him we're interested in the site."

Carroll said a final decision on whether the Board of Education will buy the site should be made this week.

"Right now we're looking at the soils and slope to see what kind of building we could put there," Carroll said.

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