Cecil Co Exec Moore to Buy Animal Shelter, Outside Bid Process, Put County in Debt; Extends Contract with Buddies for 6 Months
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore, after a more than one hour secret meeting with the County Council on Tuesday 11/17/15, announced that she plans to buy a property for a government-owned animal shelter at an unspecified cost or location, and will unilaterally extend a contract for six months with A Buddy for Life, Inc.,– the current contractor that has been the subject of multiple complaints from citizens, former volunteers and some employees for their care of stray animals under a more than $2.24 million three-year county contract.
Cecil Times waited outside the closed door meeting in Elkton with the Council and when Moore emerged, asked her a series of questions, to which she replied each time, “I’m not at liberty to say.” But moments later, her administration issued a written statement about her intentions.
Then Cecil Times conducted an hour-long interview with county Director of Administration Al Wein and County Attorney Jason Allison on the ramifications of Moore’s plan to extend, and in some cases side-step, a county “Request for Proposals” (RFP) for animal control/animal sheltering services. There were many unanswered questions about the potential costs to taxpayers, quality of services to animals and, at least initially, cutting the County Council out of the decision-making loop.
[Cecil Times first reported exclusively that Moore would not comply with the RFP’s schedule for action on bids from four respondents and would delay submission to the County Council of a required contract proposal. SEE previous CECIL TIIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2015/11/cecil-county-esxec-delays-animal-control-decision-lag-in-proposal-to-county-council-puts-animal-services-in-limbo-for-1116/]
In her statement, Moore declared that, “From the beginning of the RFP, we made it clear that we were pursuing the possible option of a county-owned facility, and asked potential bidders to include that option in their bid response.” The RFP provided an option for someone to offer a property for sale to the county for use as an animal control facility. Wein and Allison acknowledged that no one offered a property for sale under that provision.
Wein said that a property was discussed with the county outside the RFP process, after the deadline for submission of responses to the bidding document on 10/1/15. He declined to identify the property, or its owner, because negotiations were ongoing.
On top of the acquisition costs, Wein and Allison said that the county would have to come up with renovation and improvement costs for the property they are considering, but they said they had no idea of the costs because the county had not yet exercised an “option” on the unidentified property and done the needed “due diligence” to figure out how much the needed renovations would cost.
Under state and county law, as soon as an option to buy a property is executed, the full details—including location, current owner, and purchase costs—would have to be advertised in a local newspaper and a public hearing before the County Council would have to be held. Then the Council would have to approve the option to purchase the property. The option law provisions do not specify disclosure of potential additional renovation costs.
Under questioning by Cecil Times, Wein acknowledged that the County Council would have to review and approve increases in the county’s capital improvement budget, potential bond borrowing expenditures and related costs. But he said he could not estimate such expenses because the ‘option’ to buy the secret property had not yet been negotiated.
While county officials declined to identify the location of the sought-after property or its owners, one clue may come from comments by Winston Robinson, the county Director of Finance. Sources told Cecil Times that Robinson complained during discussions of other regular bidders under the RFP that he thought Chesapeake City— just south of the C&D Canal and the home of the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. shelter— was too far away from northern and western areas of the county and should not be considered.
That anti- south county attitude by the Elkton-based county government has been a source of much local dismay, especially in light of Moore’s recent proposal to abandon a boat ramp in Earleville because her parks director didn’t want to send mowers to trim grass twice a month “all the way down there.” After a public outcry, Moore gave up the plan to abandon the Earleville boat ramp, which was given to the county for free by state and federal agencies.
Meanwhile, Wein said that Moore decided to let the Buddies continue to receive county funds, after the 12/31/15 expiration of their current three-year contract, without any competitive bidding for that extra six month bonus period, so as to provide a “continuum of care” for stray dogs and cats. He said the county would take over the Buddies’ current lease with retired Circuit Court Judge Dexter Thompson and his wife at the Rainwood Kennels in Elkton, for which the county—via the Buddies—has been paying $15,000 a month.
The Buddies have been getting $60,000 a month from county taxpayers, including rent payments turned over to the Thompsons, under the current three-year contract. But the County Council cut spending on animal control in the current budget year, with the result that for the last six months of the fiscal year— January to June, 2016—there is just $50,000 a month available.
Wein said the county would continue to pay the Thompsons their $15,000 a month rental fee, and the Buddies would get a lower county payment, since they didn’t have to pay rent, of $35,000 a month.
In addition, under questioning by Cecil Times about how needed “renovations” could be accomplished– if dogs and cats were still housed at the current rented Rainwood Kennels in Elkton where the Buddies group operates– Allison responded that “renovation of Rainwood is not an option.” [The Rainwood facility has been faulted by former volunteers and County Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1) a licensed veterinarian, as a “mess” for its overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.]
That disclosure indicates that Moore is looking to purchase another facility and spend taxpayer funds to renovate it and convert it into a government-owned animal shelter. But Wein acknowledge that the secret property was not offered for sale to the county under the relevant provisions of the RFP.
Wein said that Moore was “extending” the duration of the RFP until 4/1/16, under county procurement law, and would utilize various legal provisions to advance her plan. But he also acknowledged that there would have to be submissions to the County Council of fiscal and legal resolutions to amend the capital improvement budget, provide for potential bond borrowing for a property acquisition, put out for bid a property renovation/construction proposal, and related taxpayer-funded costs. No cost disclosures were made to the press or public.
CECIL TIMES will be writing a detailed SPECIAL REPORT on the animal control/animal shelter issue in the next few days. There are lots of details, confidential information and legal/political/budget ramifications of this multi-years county spending and policy issue that citizens/taxpayers should be informed about.