CECIL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT: Moore Seeks to Buy Kennel in Residential Area; RFP, Oversight Panel, Buddies Questions Loom
A CECIL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore– who has unilaterally suspended county laws governing an Animal Control Oversight panel, extended a controversial 3-year animal control contract and signed a kennel lease for six months, all without County Council approval—is considering taxpayer purchase of a private kennel business that some local residents have complained about. The kennel is located in a residential zone that now does not allow a dog kennel use but is “grandfathered” because it was established many years ago.
Converting the property to a government-owned animal shelter– with two trucks used to pick up and deliver strays and generating significant traffic from people looking for lost pets or seeking to adopt a dog or cat—would no doubt cause concerns to nearby property owners in the residential neighborhood.
Based on reviews of public records, court documents, property records, real estate for sale listings and other information, CECIL TIMES has identified the property in question but is not publishing the specific location, its name, or the names of its owners so as to avoid a disclosure that might be considered impeding the county’s negotiating process.
However, the county in effect telegraphed the property’s owners that the government was very eager to cut a quick deal by its own actions: extending an expiring three year animal control services contract with A Buddy for Life, Inc. for another six months; acknowledging the county would have to act before 4/1/2016 when a “request for proposals” (RFP) for animal control services expires; and by stating, as county attorney Jason Allison did in an interview with Cecil Times, that renovation of the Rainwood Kennels in Elkton was “not an option.” The Buddy group currently rents the Rainwood site and county director of administration Al Wein said the county would take over the lease on Rainwood for six months while the Buddies continued to operate there.
County officials have acknowledged that the property they are considering for purchase was not submitted as part of the RFP process. The RFP included an option for someone to offer a property for sale to the county government.
Moore did not seek formal County Council approval of the lease or the contract extension and there were no resolutions authorizing those actions. She did hold a secret, closed door session with the Council on her plans and moments after the closed door meeting was over, she issued a brief “press release” saying she was looking at buying a property for a government-owned facility. [ SEE CECIL TIMES exclusive report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2015/11/cecil-co-exec-moore-to-buy-animal-shelter-outside-bid-process-put-county-in-debt-extends-contract-with-buddies-for-6-months/ ]
Meanwhile, the property the county has been looking at for purchase is involved in estate probate after the owner died several months ago and the three heirs to the property are looking to get compensation not only for the land and buildings but for the “value” of the business located on the site, according to a review of court documents. The heirs each received equal shares in ownership of the property and, in a separate listing, equal shares in the value of the kennel “business.”
Instead of just selling a property, the heirs thus expect substantial compensation for the value of the business operated on the site—even though the county would not be obtaining revenue from operating a commercial kennel business venture. The county is believed to be seeking reduction of the heirs’ asking price to sell the facility. And Wein and Allison have said that the unnamed property the county was considering would also require unspecified renovation costs before the county could locate animal control operations there.
The site includes about 30 dog kennels in a separate building as well as an adjacent 3-bedroom, 2-bath house. The kennels are believed to have been constructed by the owner himself for temporary boarding of pets for vacationing or travelling families. But kennels used for potentially vicious stray dogs taken in by animal control and dogs that may be housed for long periods of time before adoption need to be fortified and configured for long-term sanitation.
In the past, some nearby residents in the North East area neighborhood complained to county zoning officials about the operation of a commercial kennel on the residentially zoned property, but they were told there was nothing that could be done because the site was “grandfathered” because it existed before the zoning code was applied to the area.
The house on the property is unlikely to be needed for animal control services. But given the precedent recently set for county purchase of the Sheriff’s Department office building in Elkton, the county could be considering becoming a landlord again and could rent the house out if it acquired the kennel site. (The county recently agreed to pay over $7 million to buy the Sheriff’s building it had previously leased on Chesapeake Blvd and now plans to hire a private property manager to supervise rental of several excess office spaces not needed for the Sheriff. The county has even created a whole new category in the budget for its landlord revenues and expenses.)
While the Sheriff’s building purchase was touted as a net cost savings over the onerous terms of the existing lease, it still raises policy concerns about the local government getting into the business of being a landlord for private renters of a government site. And there is no similar compelling lease consideration to justify the county becoming the landlord for a private residence.
If the county sought to sell the house, it would have to subdivide the property—the house and kennel sit on a two acre parcel. It is unclear if that could be accomplished on such a relatively small site and whether subdividing the property would alter the ‘grandfather’ zoning status of the kennel portion of the site.
Meanwhile, there are questions about who would operate a potential government-owned kennel facility to provide animal capture/animal sheltering supervision and care of the animals. Asked in a recent interview if the county would hire its own employees to do animal control/capture and to care for strays in a government owned facility, Allison and Wein told Cecil Times recently that one “option” in the RFP was to have a private party operate a government owned building.
That would likely mean the county is considering the only two bidders on the RFP who do not own their own shelter: the Buddies and a pest exterminator from Chestertown. The other two bidders, First State Animal Center and SPCA of Delaware, and the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc., both own their own shelters and would not likely abandon their own property to simply staff another building in North East.
As the long drawn out saga of animal control has shadowed Moore’s administration since its beginning, there is still no practical resolution of another unilateral Moore action: her dissolving of the established by law and Charter Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission last spring. There has been no public oversight or public meetings on the Buddies operations since then.
If there had been such public discussion, panel members might have questioned why—in their second quarter report to the county—the Buddies reported euthanizing 26 percent of the 103 cats they took in. And why the vast majority of the dogs coming in to the shelter were surrendered by owners or citizens who found strays and brought them to the shelter on their own: of 154 dogs in county care, just 52 were apprehended by the Buddies two full-time animal control officers.
Moore recently got the County Council to go along with her new plan to change the law to authorize a county administration employee controlled panel, with just two citizens participating. (The old ACCOC was all citizen members.) One citizen would be Moore’s choice alone while the County Council would get to pick one citizen, although Moore would have to OK the appointment. So far, there has been no movement to re-establish a formal oversight process; action on a citizen appointee by the County Council would require a resolution, hearing, and legislative session vote—a process that can take six weeks after a nomination is made.