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Take now. Pay later.

In a nutshell, that's what County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann wants to do with your property if the county decides it's needed immediately to improve existing public roads or sewer and water lines.

The county already has the power to condemn private land for public projects, provided the County Council approves.

Rehrmann has asked the county's General Assembly delegation to give the county authority to speed the condemnation process for some public projects. Instead of waiting to take the land until a purchase price is agreed uponbetween the county and owner, Rehrmann wants the county to be able to take the land immediately if a public project is considered an emergency.

Working out the purchase price would come later, even if ithad to go to court.

"Once the County Council agrees to condemn the property, it's inevitable the property will be taken," said WilliamT. Baker Jr., director of the Department of Public Works. "But if you hold the project up as the fight over price goes through the courts, it costs the county money."

The idea has received little supportfrom Harford's state legislators.

Harford's former county executive, Sen. Habern W. Freeman, D-District 34, criticized the proposal as"arrogant."

"It's an unfeeling, bureaucratic move that has its roots in laziness and lack of planning," said Freeman. "Negotiating with people ahead of time is part of the finesse. I'll do everything I can in the world to defeat it."

Del. Donald C. Fry, D-District 34 and chairman of Harford's legislative delegation, said the delegation won't support the measure.

"It's essential we ensure that propertyis only taken for valid purposes," said Fry. "The county has condemnation power now. This is an additional intrusion on property rights."

If the General Assembly were to pass the measure, voters would still have the final say because the proposal would appear on the ballot in November as an amendment to the county charter.

"We need to take care of people who don't want to deal with us, or who hold out because they think the county has deep pockets," said Baker. "We don't have deep pockets."

He said the county offers fair market value based on independent appraisals when trying to buy land, but the negotiating process can take years.

As an example, he cited improvementsto West Ring Factory Road between Route 924 and Route 24 near Bel Air, which have been delayed three years while the county has haggled over the purchase of rights of way. He said the project is expected tocost $100,000 more than anticipated as a result of the delay.

"All the courts decide is payment," said Baker. "If we pay money now, orlater as it's awarded by the jury, we still pay."

The Rehrmann proposal would limit the county's authority to take land only to improve existing public utilities or roads, said Baker.

It would not extend the authority to condemn land where no road or utility lines exist.

Under the proposal, if Harford decides to build a new road, thecounty would have to go through the traditional condemnation processand wait to use the land until a price has been negotiated.

Bakersaid some counties have the authority to condemn undeveloped land tomake way for a new road or other new public works projects. Those jurisdictions include Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Montgomery County.

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