Funding for new emergency center remains in Harford capital budget

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Members of the Harford County Council agreed Tuesday to hold funding for a large portion of the planned Emergency Operations Center replacement in next year's capital budget.

The plan to replace the building near Routes 1 and 543 in the Hickory area is expected to cost more than $40 million, according to current county budget estimates.

"My biggest concern is the necessity of moving forward at this time when I share a little bit more concern with our debt service issues than the county executive does," County Council President Billy Boniface said.

Boniface said he asked Harford County Executive David Craig if the county absolutely needs to move forward with the whole project at this time.

"He [Craig] assured me they absolutely needed phase one," he said.

The amendment approves phase one, but holds back another $12 million until the council is comfortable it has not exceeded what it can support with bonds, Boniface said.

Councilman Jim McMahan said, however, the need for a new emergency operations center still has to be determined.

"Let's get the horse before the cart here and let's ascertain the need first," he said.

Administrator position

The council also voted against an amendment that would have removed $140,000 for salary and benefits for an administrator at the emergency operations center.

The funding requested by the Craig administration therefore remained in place. Councilmen Joe Woods, McMahan and Chad Shrodes disagreed with that vote.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti asked Director of Administration Mary Chance if that line item was for hiring a "fire and EMS director."

Chance, whose office oversees the EOC, replied: "I honestly don't recall saying a 'fire administrator,' but an administrator position."

Chance said her department been discussing how the county's growth is putting more demands on emergency services, which handles police, fire and emergency dispatching, emergency preparedness, hazmat and disaster response.

Deputy Chief of Staff Ben Lloyd wrote in a later e-mail that the proposed position is nothing new but is one that was not filled after a previous EOC administrator retired.

"This position has been in existence for a number of years, though it has been vacant for the last year or so since Larry Mabe retired," he wrote. "While there are no immediate plans to fill it, it is important that we keep the position on the books."

Facilities plan

The county council Tuesday also approved a more detailed description for the facilities master plan project, which Boniface called "the most critical and the most important capital project we will be moving forward with in the near future."

He said it brings in an outside firm to prioritize which county facilities need attention, while Lisanti said it will help make capital project funding more equitable, which she said has not been in the past.

"As funding becomes available, we have a list that's justifiable that we need to move forward with," Boniface said.

"I share grave concerns over our debt service. The county executive feels we can be adding about $40 million a year. I think we need to throttle that back," he said.

The council mentioned the facilities master plan as the solution to a lot of these concerns.

Boniface said the plan is to bring in outside firm to develop a list of infrastructure priorities and how to pay for them.

He added the county has been paying back debt with budget surpluses and reserve funds and eventually the system needs to change.

"The balances are gone, so we're going to have to come up with another way to pay back debt service," Boniface said. "We're going to get ourselves into a situation where we're going to have to increase revenue in order to do so."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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