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Cecil County Exec: In First Year of Charter Govt., Moore Claims Accomplishments; Seeks Property Tax Freeze Again

December 6, 2013
By Nancy Schwerzler

A Cecil Times Exclusive Report

Cecil County’s first County Executive, Tari Moore, reflected upon her first year in office under the new Charter government in a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Cecil Times, saying she plans to freeze property tax rates again next year, may cut future retirement benefits for new county employees, and is still standing by the county’s $2.2 million animal control contract with a Delaware animal rescue group.

In an hour and a half interview in her office in the county administration building in Elkton, Moore spoke candidly about her first year in office, her agenda, and even her own personality traits and leadership style.

Most significant for county taxpayers is Moore’s comment that she wants, for the second consecutive year, to freeze county property tax rates in the new Fiscal 2015 budget that she will propose to the County Council in March, 2014. But for county employees, there are some cautions: Moore is considering shifting some full-time workers to part-timers and studying possible reduced retirement benefits for new employees.

And in the one major area in which the County Council stood up to Moore in the current budget year—her proposed boosts in sewer hook-up fees—Moore is uncertain if she will try again to make those “enterprise funds” pay their own way to cover fully the costs of services provided to users of sewage treatment systems in the more urban areas of the county. Residents of the more rural parts of the county who do not have public sewer services have complained that all taxpayers have been subsidizing costs of sewerage services they do not receive if ratepayers do not pay the full costs of their own utilities.

Moore was elected as Cecil County’s first-ever County Executive in the 2012 election and was sworn into office on 12/3/12. Since then, she has overseen the transition of county government from an often warring five-member, part-time Board of Commissioners with shared authority to oversee county government operations, to a concentrated power base of a lone executive running the government on a daily basis. The powers of the new County Council are significantly reduced from the Commissioners’ system under Charter government.

County voters overwhelming approved the shift to Charter government in the 2010 election, indicating a strong community yearning for a new way of doing county business in Elkton. Moore said she believed the “transition has really gone beautifully,” despite “a few minor bumps in the road.’” The “team” of county employees and senior department officials “have really come together” to bring “a lot of innovation” to the operations of county government in the first year of Charter government.

She said there has been a “continuity” of most past department heads while empowering them to offer suggestions to improve operations during regular departmental meetings with the executive. In addition, Moore said, she has included the administrator of the county’s court system and public library to expand the reach into related, but technically independent, operations that are in part funded by the county.

Those meetings are “very frank,” Moore said, but bring to the table issues that need to be addressed. “I have been pretty hands-on” in managing operations of the county government, Moore said. And, even before the upcoming budget process begins in earnest for the Fiscal 2015 budget year, Moore said she has used the staff meetings to prod department heads to consider shifting full-time employees to part-time status to cut costs. “We’ve got a real challenge with our budget next year,” she said.

Under the previous Board of Commissioners, and during the first year of her administration and Charter government, Moore said she wanted to resist major changes in local government and avoid “layoffs” of employees, but now “it’s time to look at that,” she said.

The biggest change for her, Moore said, is that as a county Commissioner she was just one of five overseers of the local government and often was “on the losing end” of a lot of 3-2 votes on that board, which was for two years controlled by the “Three Amigos” majority that was broken up by the results of the 2012 elections.

One of her first duties as County Executive was to do some “relationship building” inside and outside county government, repairing relationships that had been strained under the Three Amigos’ rule and encouraging county employees to feel free to speak up “without fear of losing their jobs.”

In a wide-ranging discussion with Cecil Times, Moore addressed multiple issues facing the county:

DRUGS:

Moore said she recently sent a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley, asking for state aid in four areas to address the crucial issue of drug abuse in the county: law enforcement, treatment of addicts, drug abuse prevention, and patient recovery. She asked for “stability in funding” for existing programs as well as some new initiatives.

Significantly, Moore said she was asking for a new 50-50 match of state and county funds to support a designated state forensic analyst to give priority to Cecil County criminal drug cases to expedite analysis of suspected drug substances confiscated by police, so as to enhance prosecution of offenders. A backlog of drug-testing cases often forces prosecutors to drop or reduce criminal drug charges in order to comply with state speedy trial mandates, Moore observed.

Moore acknowledged that a recent designation of Cecil County as eligible for federal “High Impact Drug Trafficking Area” funds was “not a magic bullet” and would most likely only provide minimal funds to address the law enforcement side of the drug problem.

But she said she was working with the independently-elected county Sheriff to re-establish a K9 unit that could use dogs to detect illegal drugs.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:

“We’re still not where we should be,” Moore acknowledged about the county’s largely laggard efforts to woo major businesses to the county to provide new jobs to county residents and expand the taxbase so that residential properties do not have to continue to provide the bulk of tax revenues to support county government expenses.

Many proposals come in to the county and require lots of work to respond to, but don’t necessarily result in a major business choosing the county, the county executive noted. Last spring, Moore said, the county came in second in a national search by a major Fortune 500, “huge, huge” business for a new location—which would have brought “several thousand” jobs and major investment to the county. The business demanded a short 18 months timeframe for all permits and approvals, requiring “huge meetings” of various county and state officials but in the end, the county did not woo the business.

“It’s only a matter of time,” Moore said optimistically, before the county lands some major business investments. “A lot of seeds are being planted.”

SEWER FEES:

Moore faced her biggest challenge from the County Council over her proposal in the current budget year to boost sewer hook-up fees from $8,000 to $16,100, based upon many years of the County Commissioners refusing to make the tough political decision to require developers to pay the full freight of sewage costs. The Council cut the fees to $12,000, and subsequently stalled the effective date of even those lower fees for several months so as to allow one major developer to get hook-ups at the lower costs.

Asked if she would try again in the new budget to push for higher sewer hookup fees, Moore responded, “I can’t answer that.”

Moore did request, and receive, a modest $30,000 in the current budget to pay partial costs for a study of creating a county water/sewer authority, to co-ordinate county and town systems so as to “take the politics out” of the fee-setting and planning process, as Moore said last winter in proposing such an option. She has done nothing to pursue that study, Moore acknowledged, and she is unsure if she will pursue that option and will not ask for additional funds in the new budget to fully fund such a study.

Moore did say that the county would continue talks with the town of Elkton to “partner” with the town’s sewer system to serve a limited portion of the Route 40 growth corridor that is without such services, and which poses an impediment to business development in the area.

ANIMAL CONTROL:

In the final moments of the old Board of Commissioners, the “Three Amigos” majority approved a more than $2.2 million, three-year contract with A Buddy for Life, a Delaware animal rescue group with no shelter, no experience in animal control, and no employees. As a commissioner, Moore voted against the contract but as county executive, she has declined to exercise her power to terminate the Buddies contract, despite numerous citizen complaints and issues—including the death of a family pet and vicious attack upon a woman who agreed to be a “foster” parent for a Buddy-placed dog.

“We have been active” in working on “correcting deficiencies,” Moore said, and the Buddies have responded “with a positive attitude.” Moore said the Buddies are still “figuring out who they are, where they are and what they are supposed to do.”

“I could have given them notice,” she said, and told the group ‘”You’re terminated.” But she chose not to do so, because “that’s not the right thing to do.” So, Moore said, she decided “to give it a try.” And “I went into it with my eyes wide open,” she added.

“I wanted it to succeed,” Moore said of the county’s $2.2 million contract with the Buddy group.

She said she and county Director of Administration Al Wein—who has been the main point person in overseeing the animal control issue—have met with Buddy leaders and told them that they must “step up and do what you are being paid to do.”

Asked what it would take—such as the serious injury of a child– for her to use the authority of her office and the contract’s provisions allowing the county to terminate the animal control contract for any reason, Moore had no response. But she did say she might want to “re-negotiate” the contract with the Buddies.

TARI ON TARI:

Tari Moore has established a political “style” that reflects a personable, and personal, approach to voters. Even when provoked by political opponents while a county Commissioner, she always kept her cool. So what, if anything, sets her off, and does she ever vent and shout at people behind closed doors?

“I don’t like to lose my temper because I think it is a waste of energy,” Moore responded, with a laugh at the question.

She said she had to learn many years ago to control her temper: “I had a very bad temper,” Moore admitted, which she “inherited” from her father. Now, “I don’t get angry so much as I get frustrated.”

“I’ve had to re-invent myself” many times in the past, she said, noting that she had a local government career and was planning to run for public office in Utah when her husband, Steve, suddenly announced his job was being transferred to Cecil County.

“Is it all Pollyanna here? No, of course not,” Moore said. But she doesn’t yell at people behind closed doors. “That’s not my style,” she said. Instead, she wants to push people to “be the best they can be” and she tries to figure out “what motivates” people.

And, reflecting on her first year in the job of County Executive, Moore said, “I love it.” It is both “the most difficult” and “most rewarding” job she has ever had. “The community here has embraced me, prayed for me, yelled at me and criticized me,” she said with a laugh.

“There’s an old adage: if everybody’s happy, then you are not doing your job.”

10 Responses to Cecil County Exec: In First Year of Charter Govt., Moore Claims Accomplishments; Seeks Property Tax Freeze Again

  1. Joe C on December 6, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    “We’ve got a real challenge with our budget next year,” she said. This quote is very interesting in light of the fact that she pushed for and received authority to increase spending by $70 million dollars. Yes, taxes will be frozen this year, but wait until 2015 when the loans start coming due. As I stated in the past there would be no tax increase this year because it is an election year. Just another “act” in the Moore Stage Show. The next act sounds like a horror movie for current and future county employees.

    • Rebecca Demmler on December 9, 2013 at 5:57 pm

      Come on, Joe. Surely you are aware that no one person controls the budget single-handedly. There exists feed-back and direction from those possessing financial expertise. Have you taken any steps to understand the current county debt as it relates to previous debt? Have you contacted the Budget Director and/or the Treasurer and gone over the numbers? Why do you continue to throw darts at County Executive Moore based on your personal supposition rather than on the basis of solid fact? But, wait…I think I know the answer to my own question.

      Too often, any of us are prone to generalizations formed not entirely from facts, but from personal bias. In your case, Executive Moore’s switch from your beloved “Republicanism” sullied her in your eyes. Now, I fear that anything that our Executive does is fodder for your censure.

      This is most unfortunate, not only for those you might unfairly influence, but for the good of the County. It is time for you to set aside your personal resentment and to join with others who wish to work toward building a strong Cecil County.

      • Joe C on December 10, 2013 at 9:16 am

        Becky,
        Love you but unfortunately you are wrong. Diane and I try to make every council meeting and most [citizens'] corner events, we read the bills and resolutions. The fact is Tari sought and received authorization to increase the county debt by 50% from current levels. That is an additional 70 million in debt on the citizens in the county. Becky, the problem is we do care about Cecil County and want it to be strong. Being in debt is not a strong position.

        As far as Ms. Moore, she decided to break her word. She took the support and money of Republicans, then turned her back on them, now that she thinks the storm is over she switched. She just wanted to circumvent the process and name her own replacement. Your word is your bond; she can Never be trusted again!

  2. David Neff on December 8, 2013 at 12:34 am

    Tari Moore is the best thing to have happened to Cecil County. Keep up the good work, Tari! I look forward to the town hall meeting on Dec. 10th

    • Mike R on December 9, 2013 at 12:45 pm

      David, please list for me why you believe that Tari Moore is the best thing that happened to Cecil County. Maybe I’m not seeing what you are seeing.

      Fiscal responsibility – not. … What will happen in 2015 when our taxes will have to go up based on some of her other spending frenzies. Please enlighten me.

      • Stupid Intolerant on December 9, 2013 at 7:53 pm

        Why are you asking to be enlightened? Sounds like you have all the answers already. However I believe the whacky [one] on the Council and her “do as I say” buddy at the other end of the table has cost us more than all the discretionary spending of the county executive.

  3. Politics for Dummies on December 8, 2013 at 5:09 am

    It is stated that Moore said the Buddies are still “figuring out who they are, where they are and what they are supposed to do.” Shouldn’t they have had all of that figured out PRIOR to being awarded a $2.2 million dollar contract? Better yet, shouldn’t Moore have asked those questions before approving said contract?

    … And, if Moore is in this with “eyes wide open” how much actual time has she spent at the animal control facility prior to making a statement to the Cecil Whig that if she “thought” abuse was happening she’d stop it. She basically called all of those who came forward regarding the abusive conditions they witnessed liars. And I suppose a family being attacked while fostering a dog from an unlicensed shelter is acceptable and should be tolerated as the normal modus operandi. As a taxpayer, that is NOT acceptable to me.

    There should be more value placed on human life and public safety than protecting an inept organization to save political face. Just maybe this contract is the most scrutinized of any because it has the highest risk factors to human beings.

    In regard to cost cutting, when asking department heads to shift full-time employees to part-time status to “cut costs” that should include the department heads as well. True cost savings would be better realized by cutting some of the fat from the local government hierarchy and ask the same thing of them that was asked of ABFL– “step up and do what you are being paid to do” in addition to what you said you would do when you ran for election.

    • BJ on December 8, 2013 at 9:50 pm

      I’m not satisfied with Buddies’ performance to date either. But anyone who thought a newly-formed group providing animal control services should have “all of that figured out” is unrealistic.

      By the way, Moore didn’t vote in favor of the contract.

      And that contract (approved in a 3-2 vote with then Commissioners Broomell, Dunn and Mullin voting in favor), was only for animal control services – not animal rescue/foster efforts.

      Which means all of Buddies for Life’s actions for animal rescue and/or foster are not the responsibility of the county.

      • Politics for Dummies on December 9, 2013 at 10:19 am

        When a person applies for a job, they list their qualifications based on the duties described to obtain the position. Most businesses place new hires on a 3-6 month probationary period to assess job performance. Taxpayers in Cecil County should expect that organizations who were considered for animal control, based on their bids, provided such detailed information as to their qualifications for consideration. To ask that those things be “figured out” prior to being awarded the contract is far from unrealistic, it is necessary and was a requirement of the Request For Proposals.

        Now, after almost a year, it’s obvious this new vendor still doesn’t have things “figured out” and have been operating without a license. It is ludicrous that salons, restaurants, etc. have been ordered to cease operations for lack of proper licensing but an animal control facility remains open without one. And, while the facility operates unlicensed, a vicious attack occurs resulting in death and injury with permanent damage to a human being’s quality of life.

        What’s “unrealistic” is to allow this facility to continue operating in such a haphazard manner and, God forbid, the possibility or probability that another attack will occur. The County is just as responsible as the facility because they have been made aware of the numerous infractions and, in the eyes of the public, appear to report to (or work with) ABFL because the County Executive sure makes enough concessions for them and they are quite confident no actions will be taken against them by their “friend.”

        In the RFP the following was stated: “Before submitting proposals, prospective vendors shall carefully acquaint themselves with all governing laws, regulations, ordinances, etc. and otherwise thoroughly familiarize themselves with all matters which may affect the performance of the work. The act of submitting a proposal shall be considered as meaning that the vendor has so familiarized himself and, therefore, no concession will be granted by the County because of any claim of misunderstanding or lack of information.” So why is it unrealistic to expect processes, licensing, …etc.be in place prior to assuming responsibility and control for animal care?

        And, the person with the power and holding the reins is Tari Moore. She is not being blamed for the failure of an organization that obviously provided inaccurate information on their experience but she is now, justifiably, being blamed for allowing them to continue to operate with the same inept understanding of State Law and experience in animal control.

        The resolution is right in front of the council’s face, they simply need to do the right thing at this point and nobody needs to spell it out any more than what has already been done! People have voiced viable alternatives which need to be given serious consideration.

  4. Diane W on December 9, 2013 at 11:17 am

    I’m very disappointed to date with Tari Moore’s performance. She claims accomplishments– oh please, she is status quo. This may be her first year of her first term but hopefully it will be her last.

    In my oppinion she lacks the backbone to make the decisions that need to be made on some serious problems. It’s time she takes the bull by the horns and solve the animal control problems.

    You can’t “save” viscious or aggressive animals that are a danger to public health and safety. Who wants to be liable for a child being mauled and/or killed by a viscious/aggressive animal? Maybe it’s time our elected officials think more about “saving” people than the vicious dogs that the Buddy people think have more rights than human beings.

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