Cooperation needed [Editorial]

The Aegis

As expected, Bel Air town officials have hired a consultant to produce a feasibility study on constructing a new police headquarters, or perhaps making significant upgrades to the existing facility, on the ground level of Town Hall.

The Board of Town Commissioners approved the hiring of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates to conduct the study for $43,420. Board members had evaluated the proposal during a work session the week prior to Monday night’s vote to award the contract.

“It’s definitely a needed project, and I’ll look forward to see the next stage of the process,” Commissioner Brendan Hopkins said.

Hopkins, a former deputy sheriff, is all-in on the need for a new police facility in Bel Air. He previously said he would vote for higher taxes, if that was needed to pay for it, although he backtracked a bit afterward. Meanwhile, Town Administrator Jesse Bane, who has spent most of his life in law enforcement – including eight years as county sheriff – has said he is confident Bel Air Police can get a new facility without a tax increase.

Certainly, the police in Bel Air need a new home, or something better than what they have. They don’t have enough room and the current facility is not secure by contemporary standards.

While we view the concept of building for the future when it comes to government facilities in particular with some caution – too often having more space leads to more positions, regardless of being justified – law enforcement is one area in the public sector that needs to grow and should. That can’t happen as long as the Bel Air PD is ensconced under its existing circumstances.

Town officials have mentioned the possibility of putting up a new police building just north of Town Hall on the open area at Hickory and Shamrock where the war memorial and Christmas tree are – possibly connecting the new building with the existing one.

That’s probably the most expedient and potentially least costly option, provided the site can accommodate a building of the size needed. Again, a word of caution: If the police leave Town Hall, that will trigger a renovation of the latter building and, possibly, a move of some offices, like planning and public works, to Town Hall from their location off of Route 22. Bureaucratic consolidation makes sense, but it should not be confused with expansion, which probably is not justified.

The commissioners have also talked about building a police station at another location; however, the only significant property the town owns in close proximity is the surface parking lot on Hickory Avenue, which town officials say might be put up for sale to generate funding to build the new police facility. Obviously, the property can’t do both.

Another option would be the property next to the Sheriff’s Office HQ on Main Street, a small parking lot and park that was once thought to be a future town hall site. Bane, who wasn’t working for the town when that property was acquired, has pledged the town won’t buy more property – for the police on any other reason – unless it has a clearly stated purpose. That’s reassuring, or at least as long as he’s at the helm.

We’re not sure there’s a right option, at a right cost, for a new Bel Air Police station that has materialized. That’s not to say there isn’t one out there. Surely, there should be, and that’s why the consultants have been brought on board to find one.

We do know there’s a lot of vacant property throughout the downtown owned by Harford County government that’s lying fallow. Because of this, town officials and the county need to work together with the new consultant, to determine if one of these sites should be an option. Town taxpayers pay for the Bel Air PD, but plenty of people come to Bel Air daily to conduct business that’s directly related to the county government. Joint discussions and planning and, possibly, participation should be encouraged.

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