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Bel Air's five candidates for three town commissioner seats are all similarly hopeful the town can eventually make good use of the newly-purchased BB&T building, and all believe Bel Air remains very safe and needs little in the way of serious public safety improvements.

Those are just two of the issues candidates in the town of Bel Air's election Nov. 8, which will feature incumbent commissioners Terry Hanley, Eddie Hopkins and Rob Reier running for re-election. The two challengers are Greg Adolph and Susan Burdette. Adolph ran once before, in the last town election in 2009, when he lost a seat by just seven votes.

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The Aegis recently interviewed each candidate about two issues that have come to the forefront since the last town election in November 2009: the town's recent purchase of the vacant BB&T building on Main Street after a year of negotiations and rising concern about crime in Bel Air after two murders just over a year apart.

BB&T purchase

Reier, 46, a member of the town board since 2006, is the only candidate who remains opposed to the town board's decision to buy the former bank building — which has been vacant for several years — for just over $1 million.

The town plans on first demolishing the bank building, at 33-37 S. Main St., to become a parking lot and in the future, a municipal building. The town plans to borrow $1,032,400 toward the project.

"I voted against it and continue to hold that [view]," Reier said, explaining that putting money toward such a purchase in "today's unsettled and fragile economy" is not worth it.

He said he knows some improvements need to be made to town hall but is "uncomfortable" with the prospect of having another property.

Hanley, who has served since 2003 and is seeking his third term, said he also did not like the idea of buying the property at first, but he approves of the way it was purchased.

"With this real estate market being as low as it is, the opportunity to bid came before the board of commissioners," he said.

He said he had been "adamantly opposed" to spending millions of dollars to make improvements to the Hickory Avenue Town Hall building. He said he also agrees the town administration could get more prominence by being on Main Street.

"It was a very good value, I will say that," he added.

Hanley, 47, who has been on the board since 2007, said he is most concerned about finding a good use for the BB&T property.

"I'm not sure I'm that happy about buying that property and making it a parking lot," he said. "To spend $1 million to tear it down and make a parking lot, I don't agree with that …The only reason I supported that was I thought it was ludicrous to spend $5 million to expand the existing town hall."

Hopkins, 54, who is seeking his second term, said he was originally against the idea of buying the BB&T building, but he thinks it does fit into the idea of how the administration wants Main Street to look.

"Town government forms the standard of any municipality," he said. "The vision I would like to see for Main Street is basically for a town square."

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Although he thought the original suggested cost of $2 million was too high, "I am more comfortable with what it is now," Hopkins said.

Adolph said he is hopeful the building will be put to good use.

"I hope that the commissioners have a good plan for its use," he said. "My feeling is they do. It certainly seems the funding mechanisms were discussed thoroughly enough."

Adolph, a 28-year-old environmental safety health director, said he did have reservations on spending $1 million on something that is "not necessary," but thinks it could be a positive project.

"It's a step, I think, to giving some incentives to business and folks to lower vacancies on Main Street, and essentially get past the stagnation," he said.

Burdette, a 58-year-old retired Harford County Public Library employee, said the town's BB&T property purchase has "merit," as the building is in a prime location, and she agrees with making it a parking lot.

"The site, being in the center of Main Street, across from the historic courthouse and within walking and parking distance of county and local business properties, has great future potential," he wrote in an email. "The option of using the property for short term parking to generate revenue and support the Main Street businesses makes good sense."

Burdette said she would consider all options in deciding what to build there.

"I would carefully explore what to build on the property based upon maximum benefit to the citizens and needs of the town. I would consider another municipal facility, the McFaul Center for example, as a sustainable consideration and example of good planning," she wrote. " I would work to have town and county coordinate their plans for beneficial long-term needs, in anticipation of an improved economy. I would also carefully consider if the police department should remain and expand in its present location."

Public safety

Candidates were even more in agreement when it came to the issue of public safety. They unanimously praised the police department's operations and said they believe Bel Air is safe.

"Since becoming a homeowner more than 25 years ago, I still feel safe taking my dog out late at night," Burdette wrote. "Through the years, I've often read in The Aegis about the town police receiving grants for training, updating their procedures and providing public training services including computer crime prevention and bike safety awareness."

Burdette said she especially commends police on interacting with younger people in restaurants and bars in the evenings.

"Officers patrol these busy areas and let their presence be known to maintain order and safety. We as citizens should feel confident knowing that our family members are safe 'in town' and able to enjoy the activities that our town has to offer. As a commissioner, I will definitely support efforts by the town police to maintain a positive presence and public safety."

Adolph said the police department has been funded to keep its equipment current and get the latest technology.

He said he does not feel like the town is dangerous.

"Generally, I feel safe walking around, yes," he said. "I do feel that the police department is certainly on top of things and that Bel Air remains a safe community."

Adolph said the police are professionals and have the best knowledge in the crime arena.

"I shy away from being overly critical," he said.

Reier said statistics show the town has had a 50 percent drop in break-ins, as well as decreases in the number of vehicle thefts, assaults and motor vehicle accidents since 2006.

"Just looking at the statistics, we have improved with safety," he said. "Certainly there's always room for improvement… [but] I think we have made some tremendous strides over the past several years."

Hanley agreed with that assessment.

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"I think Bel Air is extremely safe," he said, explaining he receives a quarterly report on crime.

"We had 17,000 calls for service over the year," Hanley said. "The bottom line is, Bel Air is an extremely safe community. I feel very confident we have people trained, who know the community and make a strong presence in our community … Most of the crimes are small, petty crimes."

Hopkins, a former deputy sheriff, also called Bel Air very safe, and attributed part of that to the ability of police officers to advance in the department and the decision of many of them to stay in Bel Air.

"We still do not see, thankfully, the violent crime, the gang issues … with any frequency," he said. "We have a good law enforcement agency … You are seeing young people who want to work with a local law enforcement agency. They are all staying and they are choosing to raise their families in Bel Air."

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