In a speech to county business leaders that aides said would mirror this week's State of the County address, County Executive David R. Craig said Harford must improve the quality of life for today's residents if it hopes to provide for the tens of thousands of new residents expected in the next decade.
Craig said the biggest challenge for Harford as it prepares for growth related to Aberdeen Proving Ground will be sustaining and bolstering the quality of services as they are stretched to meet increasing needs.
"I'm more concerned about the 243,000 people we have today than those coming tomorrow," Craig said. "If we can do that, things will be good for them when they get here."
The remarks were part of a brief speech delivered Thursday night to a crowd of about 250 at the Harford County Chamber of Commerce dinner and auction at the Maryland Golf and Country Club in Bel Air.
The theme of the speech was of formulating a vision for Harford and broadening expectations as the county prepares to welcome residents who could move to the county in the coming years. Nearly 30,000 military and ancillary workers - and their families - are expected to settle around APG.
Craig said leaders need to go beyond creating new funding streams, securing capital funding and adding new positions.
"Think why it is you live here, why it is you came here, or why it is you stay here," he said.
Among the highlights:
Attracting and keeping teachers, as well as strengthening school curriculum and programs. Budget officials say Craig, a former assistant principal, hopes to give teachers a 7-percent pay raise for the second year in a row.
Becoming more flexible with farmers to help them sustain their farms. Craig has delivered bills to the County Council that addresses building permits for agricultural structures and agricultural preservation requirements.
Making new homes affordable for teachers, police and other public servants.
Easing traffic and promoting public transit to get residents out of cars and help persuade those who commute out of the county, long seen as a bedroom community for larger cities, to work in Harford.
Using current revenues more wisely before creating new revenue. Former County Executive James M. Harkins proposed a 2-cent property tax cut in 2004, which was later reduced by the council to 1 cent. No tax cut is expected this year, or in the near future, officials say.
Beyond adding more deputies or building a new southern precinct, Craig said the county should provide opportunities for residents so they do not turn to crime. Sheriff R. Thomas Golding wants to initiate a program next year that would add nearly 200 personnel, many of them deputies and corrections officers, by 2008, though Craig has expressed reservations.
At the close of the speech, Craig called on business leaders to step up and help develop a vision for the county's future and determine "who Harford wants to be when it grows up."
Craig will deliver his State of the County address to the council Tuesday during the council's business meeting. It will be his first since being sworn in to replace Harkins in July.