Harford County Sheriff Accuses Cassilly Of "Defunding The Police," Calls For Construction to Begin On New Training Facility

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Credit: Elizabeth Janney/Patch

HARFORD COUNTY - For the second time in two weeks, Harford County Executive Bob Cassilly is facing pushback from key officials over his proposed FY 2024 budget.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler accused the executive of "defunding the police." Gahler is calling for funding to be reinstated for a $22 million renovation to turn the former Harford County Community College HEAT Center into a new police academy.

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In 2021, former county executive Barry Glassman joined Gahler to unveil the new 20,000-square-foot training center. The plan also called for creating a new central precinct, with its headquarters at the new facility. Gahler said that construction on the training center was set to begin this year.

"Our community needs this precinct and training center yesterday, not tomorrow, and whenever it's built, it will cost more later," Sheriff Gahler said.

At Tuesday's budget work session, Major Lee Dunbar, Bureau Chief of the Services and Support Division, told the county council that not only was the project approved, but the county has already made significant investments into design, engineering, and permitting.

"I should be discussing the progress made on this project versus trying to get it off the ground, which we've been doing for the last five or six months," Dunbar said. "We have all of our engineering done, all of our architectural designs done, as well as permitting." 

In an interview with WJZ, Cassilly defended stalling the project and said he wanted to evaluate the costs before moving forward.

"I came into this office four months ago," Cassilly said. "This was a project that was set up, and I just put a hold on it while I get my stuff together and evaluate where we are financially."

Cassilly has contended that he is worried about raising taxes in a challenging budget year due to economic uncertainty. He also has stated that other projects' funding needs outweigh the Central Precinct project.

"What can we reasonably afford?" Cassilly said. "And, if we want to afford that, then we're going to have to raise taxes quite frankly because we don't have the money left."

At the meeting, both Gahler and Dunbar emphasized that the new training facility and the creation of a central precinct are necessary for the police department.

"We do not have a precinct in that area for our deputies to operate out of and respond from. You can imagine the response times in this busiest part of the county. 73% of the calls for service when deputies have an arrest for a DUI or drugs, they have to travel all the way back to the Southern Precinct," Dunbar told the County Council.

"This is not about raising taxes," Gahler said. "I think we're going to hear that from the County Executive. 'Ah, you're going to make me raise taxes.' No, we're not. That money was already put into the budget on a capital project."

Gahler said that he plans to meet with each county council member to share data and gauge their opinions about moving forward with construction.

The county council will vote on the budget next month.

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