More than a dozen members of the Harford County Deputy Sheriff’s Union blasted Harford County Executive Barry Glassman’s administration for not funding deputy raises in the proposed 2017 budget, challenging Glassman’s claims that the budget prioritizes public safety and education.
The budget offers 3 percent merit-based salary increases for most county employees, with up to 9 percent increases for some Sheriff’s Office personnel, but Greg Dietz told the County Council at a budget hearing Wednesday night that is not enough.
Dietz, an 18-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, spoke on behalf of the union as about 18 other members stood behind him, in the auditorium at C. Milton Wright High School.
“The men and women of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office made life-altering decisions” to join the agency based on the promise of regular raises from the county government, and many are suffering financial hardship because the pay increases have not been funded over the years, Dietz told the council.
Glassman, meanwhile, “got a 25 percent raise” after coming into his new role, Dietz said.
“That is immoral. That is wrong,” he said.
The County Council must vote on the proposed budget by June 1.
Dietz said Sheriff Jeff Gahler has been trying to battle heroin with a task force but faces 13 vacancies in the agency “because we cannot find qualified people.”
Although some say “a little bit of marijuana use” or other indiscretions have made it harder to find qualified candidates, Dietz said there is also more competition from other jurisdictions.
“The college-educated, the hard-working, the morally upright, the ones you want to determine right from wrong… they are going to other jurisdictions,” Dietz said. “They don’t trust Harford County government.”
In response to Councilman Mike Perrone’s comment to The Aegis that the previous budget hearing drew few people because there is little angst in the county, Dietz said: “We are here to let you know there is angst in the county. There is angst from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, who have not been paid what they were promised by Harford County government.”
“The controversy is going to come when the good people of the county… realize that their elected officials, who they chose to represent them, have not been funding their deputies and putting them at risk,” Dietz said. “If, God forbid, we are forced to take people who are not qualified to wear a gun and badge in Harford County, that is going to come back on this government.”
Dietz noted the Sheriff’s Office has seen a huge outpouring of support for the “thin blue line” since the fatal shootings of Senior Deputy Patrick Dailey and Deputy First Class Mark Logsdon in Abingdon on Feb. 10, and “that thin blue line represents the law enforcement community of this county.”
“That thin blue line is getting thinner and thinner and thinner, and God forbid if that line should ever snap or break,” Dietz said, asking the council to fund a competitive wage for the deputies.
Library, transit support
Also at Wednesday’s hearing, at least a dozen people urged the council to keep supporting, or increase support, for Harford County Public Library, praising the library system’s resources and its positive impact on their lives.
The speakers included two young girls, Chloe Henkel, 13, of Darlington, and Khiyali Pillalamarri, 12, of Bel Air, who spoke about volunteering at their local library branches and using them to learn different languages, learn guitar or even help them work on plans for their own books.
Susan Rohrbach, of Darlington, said she is a registered nurse who often asks patients if they have Internet access and directs them to the library when they do not.
“The library is a great equalizer. Everyone has access,” she said, noting that limiting library access would have a negative impact on people’s health.
Briana Almengor, a mother who homeschools her children, said she loves the local Fallston branch and noted that parents who homeschool their children do not have access to many resources that public school students have.
“The library is where I get my money’s worth, I suppose,” she said.
Kurt Lawrence, of Airville, Pa., quoted writer Anne Herbert by saying: “Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.”
Cindy Guillot, of Bel Air, also asked the council to offer HarfordTransit bus service on weekends.
As a former employee at Susquehanna Workforce Network, she said the lack of public transit on the weekends makes it very difficult for many residents to find work, as many jobs require weekend hours or late shifts.
“I can tell you bus transportation on weekends is a must,” she said. “If we want to see people working full-time as opposed to relying on public assistance, we need to expand the hours of our public transit system.”