Harford Executive David Craig's 2013 State of the County Address

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The following is the complete text of Harford County Executive David Craig's 2013 State of the County Address delivered at the Harford County Council legislative session on Tuesday, Feb. 5:

"Where there is no vision, the people perish", so it is written in Proverbs 29: 18.

This statement is as true today as it was when it was written centuries ago.

Good evening, President Boniface and members of the Harford County Council. It is my pleasure to come before you tonight to present to you and the people of Harford County, the State of the County.

I am pleased to report that the State of Harford County is sound and stable, that we continue to grow our economy, and that our finances remain strong.

Since taking office in the summer of 2005, this Administration has worked hard to improve the quality of life for the citizens of our great county through a number of initiatives and projects.

This has included the six primary pillars of the Administration: public safety, education, efficiency in government, economic opportunity, environmental stewardship and quality of living.

Among our achievements have been a new state-of-the-art Southern Precinct for the Harford County Sheriff's Office; enhancements to many of our local volunteer fire and EMS companies through a variety of capital improvements, most notably the first fully county-funded volunteer fire station at Patterson Mill Road; plans for a new state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center in Hickory and if approved, a Department of Emergency Services to provide more support, coordination and assistance to our volunteer fire and EMS service.

Additionally I want to recognize and commend Sheriff Jesse Bane, the Harford County Sheriff's Office and their state and local law enforcement partners for their outstanding efforts in helping to reduce crime in our County, making it the second safest county in the state of Maryland!

With respect to public education, the Administration, working collaboratively with the County Council has provided the much needed funding, with little or no help from Annapolis, to build new schools and renovate and modernize others.

Additionally we have supported enhancements to one of the finest community colleges in the state of Maryland, Harford Community College, with various capital projects. HCC continues to grow and provides outstanding post-secondary education opportunities for learners of all ages.

We have strived to govern smarter by creating efficiencies and economy in our government. We have also worked hard to improve transparency in government and to provide the broadcast of public hearings and special events of interest to our citizens.

The size of the government workforce has been trimmed by approximately 10% since July 2008. Smaller more efficient government, yet performing at high standards for the people we serve.

Harford County prides itself on our concern for and protection of the environment. We are committed to ensuring a quality environment for our children and grandchildren.

The Department of Public Works, Division of Solid Waste Management has worked tirelessly to help make Harford County a leader in recycling both in our state and in the nation.

Additionally, since the inception of the Office of Sustainability in the Department of Administration, County Government has worked in partnership with our business community, HCC, Harford County Public Schools and other stakeholders to create a "Green Team" and enhance sustainability not only in government, but our schools, business community and non-profits as well – providing significant savings for our citizens in terms of dollars used for energy expenditures.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, the Administration has worked hard to safeguard what is important to the citizens of Harford County – an excellent quality of life in our great county.

This past year, like previous years, Harford County Government has done an outstanding job of enhancing and achieving many initiatives in keeping with our vision.

Achievements

2012 was another successful year for Harford County Government.

One notable accomplishment was the re-entry and return to full use of the County Office building at 212 South Bond Street.

As a result of a lot of work by a number of people we have been able to return the County Council Offices to this facility, a noticeable improvement over their temporary crowded space at 18 Office Street.

Additionally, with the strong support of the County Council we have been able to provide Harford County Government employees a much needed and well-deserved pay raise – the first in four years.

The various departments and agencies of our government worked diligently on their goals and objectives to bring excellence in government service to those we serve – the taxpayers of Harford County.

The Office of Communications and Technology, working in concert with Harford County Public Schools and others has completed the first 20 miles of fiber out of an estimated 100 mile HMAN project.

To date, 15 HCPS schools, three Harford County Sheriff's Office facilities, the Town of Bel Air, Department of Public Works and one station of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company are "live" on HMAN.

Additionally, in the coming year, the Office of Information and Communication Technology will also implement a software program called "EnerGov" which will improve efficiencies between several departments of County government as well as citizens who will be contacting the County for permits, inspections, and other related matters.

The Department of Community Services opened a transit bus route to Cecil County in January. This new bus route, known as the "Teal Line" provides nine roundtrips per day, Monday through Friday, connecting us to our sister county, Cecil.

Additionally, the Transportation Association of Maryland awarded Harford Transit its Human Services Partnership Award for its work in improving access to transit for persons with disabilities.

The Office of Drug Control Policy continues to make significant progress in the fight to alleviate prescription drug overdoses and abuse.

The Prescription Drug Take Back Events coordinated by this office received national recognition from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration for its success. Since the program's inception in September 2010, the Office of Drug Control Policy has collected over 5,000 pounds of unused or expired prescription drugs from over 1,000 citizens for safe and proper disposal.

Another agency that works hard serving our community, particularly those with special circumstances is the Housing Agency.

Last year the Housing Agency assisted 54 families in resolving or preventing mortgage delinquency. Additionally the Agency provided more than $70,000 in temporary rental assistance to families facing homelessness.

The Housing Agency is the epitome of government providing service that helps improve the quality of life for those less fortunate in our county.

The Department of Planning and Zoning completed work on various items of interest and importance to the people of Harford County, including the Route 22 Corridor Study which resulted in the nomination and selection as a "Planning Finalist Award" by the statewide organization Maryland Quality Initiative.

Additionally the Department completed its mandate for SB 236 known as the "Septic Bill" and has submitted a Tier Map to the State for approval by the Maryland Department of Planning as required by the state law.

This State legislation will have a definite impact on property owners throughout Harford County.

With respect to Parks and Recreation, the Department made significant progress moving vital projects forward during the past year.

Graybeal Fields, land adjoining Red Pump Elementary School, was converted to three (3) multipurpose recreational fields for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey.

Additionally, construction has commenced on the Schucks Road Regional Park which will include five (5) baseball/softball diamonds and one large multipurpose field serving three local Rec Councils – Hickory/Fountain Green, Forest Hill and Emmorton.

Finally, construction has been initiated in Churchville for two fields and additional parking to serve both new and existing fields.

Parks and Recreation also partnered with the non-profit Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding to create a facility for therapeutic riding for children with a variety of physical and developmental disabilities.

The facility will be located at Oakington Farms, repurposing the existing building and constructing an indoor riding arena.

The Department of Public Works, which many believe to be the "back bone" of government service to our citizens, completed a year which saw us make significant improvements to our county's infrastructure, both water and highways.

In June, the Abingdon Wastewater Treatment Plant was upgraded and expanded to a capacity of 20 million gallons per day. With this upgrade, the safe capacity of the County system has been increased to 30 million gallons per day, which will enable us to meet the projected peak system demands for the next 10 to 15 years.

Additionally, DPW successfully negotiated the purchase of an additional five (5) million gallons of water from the City of Baltimore, which also will aid the county in meeting future demands for water.

DPW continues to reinvest in our infrastructure and add capacity in measured stages to ensure adequate facilities for an expanding customer base. In 2012 they completed the upgrade and expansion of two major pumping stations, Bush Creek and Church Creek. Such upgrades are vital to maintaining our system for years to come.

With respect to highways, the Division of Highways completed several major initiatives including Robinhood Road from MD Rt. 40 to Titan Terrace; Wheel Road from Laurel Bush to Patterson Mill and Cedar Lane from the Bynum Run tributary to Cedar Lane Park.

These projects and many others throughout our county help to improve traffic flow and provide enhanced safety for the motoring public.

Financial management

As mentioned earlier, the Administration continually explores opportunities to improve on efficiencies and economy.

This past year, the Department of Procurement saved the taxpayers over one million dollars through various purchases and cost saving measures which included fuel purchase, fleet management and through other operational cost cutting measures.

The Office of Budget and Management Research continues to perform in an outstanding manner. I am pleased to report that for the 25th consecutive year, the Office of Budget and Management Research has been awarded the Government Finance Officers Association "Distinguished Budget Award" for the FY 2013 budget. This award is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting.

The award for the FY 2013 budget includes 26 "outstanding" ratings in four overall budget categories.

The Department of Treasury also enjoyed another highly successful year of operation. During the past year, Treasury continued to implement and improve the new receivable system for billing and made improvements to the web interface for citizens.

We were successful last year in reaffirming our highly coveted AAA bond rating from two of New York's bond rating agencies and we are optimistic of retaining the rating again this year.

Finally, the Department of Treasury received the Certificate of Excellence for Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association for the previous year.

Unfunded state mandates

The cost of operating government this has increased and will likely to increase even further.

Why – because of the continual onslaught of unfunded mandates from Annapolis.

A former budget finance advisor during the Reagan Administration once said, "There is no public tooth fairy. Father Christmas does not work on the Treasury staff. You can never bail someone out of trouble without putting someone else into trouble."

Seems our friends in both Washington and Annapolis have lost sight of this.

Over the past year Harford County, as other jurisdictions, has had to find ways to mitigate the myriad of fiscal problems that have been passed down to us from either the Federal government or our friends in Annapolis.

Passing the buck is not solving a fiscal problem – just rearranging the location and nature of the problem.

Some examples of the actions the State has taken which now directly impact Harford County and counties around the state are:

- In 2011, the Maryland General Assembly passed 90 percent of the costs associated with assessments to county governments, despite the fact that SDAT is a state agency with a director appointed by the governor.

- $700 million has been cut to highway user revenues, money which was shifted into the general fund to bolster other state programs. That was money counties depended on for building and repairing roads, and now we must find it from other sources.

- The state continues to adopt land use policies that threaten to lower rural property values and negatively affect local property tax income.

- Finally, in public education, last session the General Assembly tightened the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) law, forcing counties to allocate significant levels of funding to education while not guaranteeing the state's own level of commitment.

Additionally, we have had to assume a very significant share of the cost of teacher pensions without any ability to negotiate those benefits.

Finally, as a result of the passage of House Bill 987 last year as well as escalating requirements from the EPA and the Maryland Department of the Environment, all taxpayers in Harford County will see their property tax bill increase perhaps by upwards of $100 this year as a state required payment toward stormwater remediation.

It has been said many times, our government doesn't have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem!

The continual pass-through of unfunded mandates to Harford County simply exacerbates the fiscal issues our taxpayers must deal with. The state of Maryland must stop this trickle-down approach to balancing their budget on the backs of local jurisdictions.

The future

However, no matter what the State does as a result of their failure in fiscal leadership and responsibility, Harford County must continue to move forward and continue to build on the successes we have achieved during the past seven years.

As I stated in the opening of my address, "Where there is no vision, the people perish".

In spite of the numerous challenges facing Harford County, we must work together to plow new ground as opposed to letting the weeds grow.

Last month I outlined in specific detail a vision for Harford County for the next two years. Yes, it is an ambitious two-year plan, but a plan based upon the needs of a growing, prosperous county.

The two-year plan covers the Administration's priorities which need our attention:

Public Education – notably the replacement of four (4) multi-building schools

Public Works

a) Solid Waste management

b) Water and Sewer Authority

c) Transportation improvements

Public Safety

Land Use – effectively managing State mandates

Additional support and assistance to community agencies, such as:

a) SARC

b) Southern Resource Center

c) The Humane Society

d) The Harford Center

Enhancing the County's communication and technology capabilities

And, continuing our efforts in keeping compensation and benefit packages for employees competitive.

Harford County can be proud of what we have accomplished during the past seven years, and we have a number of challenges left ahead of us.

Nonetheless, we have a bright future, filled with endless possibilities and a vision for moving forward.

Council President Boniface, the Administration will continue to work in partnership with the County Council, our federal partners at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, the business community and local stakeholders in an effort to fulfill our dreams, hopes and aspirations for a better Harford County now and for future generations.

Thank you.

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