Cassilly, Gahler fire words back-and-forth over budget dispute

·4 min read

May 1—Two of Harford County's top officials are embroiled in a war of words over the proposed county budget for fiscal year 2024.

Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler said at a County Council budget session on April 25 that Harford County Executive Bob Cassilly is defunding the police. Cassilly, who was not at the session, said the sheriff's accusations have resulted in a distraction from getting his proposed budget finalized.

Cassilly released a statement Monday saying that the "the sheriff's exorbitant budget demands would require tax hikes on Harford County families."

Gahler's accusations of defunding the police come from two issues: confusion over the status of an approved public safety project, and two positions at the Harford County Sheriff's Office not being funded in Cassilly's proposed budget for fiscal year 2024.

"If you don't like the term [defund]," Gahler said in an interview Friday, "then don't defund the police."

In the current budget, $22.5 million was included to fund renovations at a county facility in Aberdeen, which will become a central precinct and training academy. So far, nearly $1 million in taxpayer money has been spent on project planning, Gahler wrote in an April 20 letter to Cassilly.

"For what seems to be ever changing and unsupported concerns, you put this fully funded and vital public safety project, 'on hold,'" Gahler wrote.

Gahler has said the precinct will handle all law enforcement calls for service from Abingdon and the Riverside areas, the Bel Air, Churchville and Level areas and Aberdeen and Havre de Grace areas. All those areas, he said, experienced significant growth in the past two decades, and law enforcement must grow with it. The new center will also include 20,000 square feet of training space, classrooms, locker rooms, a full gym, training rooms and a community room.

In an interview Friday, Cassilly said the status of the training precinct has "nothing to do" with next year's budget.

"My focus right now is trying to get through the 2024 budget," Cassilly said.

Cassilly said he told Gahler he's not advancing with the precinct project until he has a "better handle on the numbers."

"I'm not sure why [Gahler] has decided that this is of such critical importance," Cassilly said, "that he's come out in the public and starts screaming that the county executive is defunding the police."

Gahler said that Cassilly has said "a whole bunch of different things to a whole bunch of different people," including himself and his staff regarding the precinct project.

"I'm to the point where I'm not sitting down and talking to him because I know I'm not being treated honestly," Gahler said.

Gahler wrote another letter on April 28 — this one to County Council President Patrick Vincenti — about the two victim services advocate positions that were not funded in Cassilly's budget.

In his letter to Vincenti, Gahler wrote that "these positions are required to function as the point of contact for the public on ALL matters related to police misconduct allegations."

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Gahler further wrote that not funding these positions "would adversely impact the quality of services provided to the agency, our citizens, and stymie transparency related to misconduct investigations exposing the Sheriff's Office to civil litigation."

These positions were filled after the 2021 Police Accountability Act took effect on July 1, 2022, but before Cassilly took office in December. Gahler said he thinks Cassilly did not like one of the two people he hired.

Cassilly said that Gahler hired senior lawyers at substantial salaries for the positions and that those people may be over qualified.

"If [Gahler] wants to hire people at lesser salaries to fill these other positions," Cassilly said, "he's more than welcome to do that."

In Cassilly's news release, a chart was included showing the sheriff's office had received moderate year-to-year budget increases from 2008 to 2020. But in fiscal 2023, the office received a $16.2 million increase, "as politics prevailed over sound fiscal policy," Cassilly wrote.

Cassilly said that Gahler has proposed the sheriff's office receive an increase of $28.5 million above the previous record funding, to which he responded with a proposed increase of $6.5 million.

Public hearings for the county budget will be held on Thursday and May 10.