Cecil County Exec Options Two Kennels, $400K each, for County Owned Animal Shelters; Council Balks at Boosts for Buddies Extended Animal Control Contract
A CECIL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore has signed options to buy two animal kennelsâone a small private facility in a residential area in North East and also the much larger Cecil County SPCA shelter in Chesapeake Cityâat $400,000 each, but has not decided which site, or both, to buy at taxpayer expense. Also, Moore has now cut in half an earlier request for an extra $24,000 to boost an unbid, six-month contract with the current Buddy for Life animal control contractor to care for animalsâafter CECIL TIMES exposed a hidden loophole in her contract extension that would have put even more money in the groupâs pocket despite a Council budget cut.
Moore held a secret, closed door session with the County Council on Tuesday, 1/12/16 at which she outlined two shelter purchase options her administration has signed. Earlier in the day, at a public worksession of the County Council, several members criticized the administrationâs unilateral six-month extension of a previous three-year contract with A Buddy for Life, Inc. for animal control and animal sheltering operations at the rented Rainwood Kennels in Elktonâand Mooreâs plan to boost payments to the Buddies by $24,000 over the county budget for six months with a total payment to the Buddies of $271,000.
Moore originally demanded Council approval of a budget amendment to give the Buddies an extra $24,000 this year, despite a Council budget cut in the current Fiscal 2016 county budget. But last week, Moore cut that request to $11,662 — after Cecil Times published an exclusive investigative report finding that her original budget amendment would have given the Buddies even more money than they received before the Council spending reductions and that Moore secretly eliminated a past contract requirement to audit Buddiesâ spending in 2015. [SEE exclusive CECIL TIMES REPORT here: http://ceciltimes.com/2016/01/cecil-co-exec-to-give-buddies-more-despite-council-budget-cuts-no-spending-audit-option-to-extend-kennel-lease-through-2017/ ]
Meanwhile, the latest drama in the more than three year saga of animal control services in the county would put taxpayers on the hook to purchase an animal control facility for $400,000, assume unknown costs of renovations, operations, maintenance and repairs, as well as costs for actually providing direct care of stray and owner-surrendered animals to a county-owned shelter facility. And sources said that at least one member of the county administration thought that taxpayers should buy both facilities, at a total initial cost of $800,000– with one site housing strays and the other housing ârescueâ animals awaiting adoption.
Cecil Times has obtained copies of the two option/purchase agreements signed by the county several weeks ago. One option would have the county purchase the non-profit Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA) facility, on the main north/south route in the county, state Route 213 in Chesapeake City. The other option would have the county buy the much smaller privately owned boarding kennel, Canine Care, located in a residential area on Shady Beach Road in the North East area.
Under state law, once an option to purchase a property has been signed by a county government, it is subject to disclosure, with the ownerâs name, location, and proposed price subject to publication in a print newspaper and a public hearing scheduled and held. However, the state law does not mandate a hearing on the option before the County Council and in the past in Cecil County, such required option hearings have been treated as âadministrativeâ hearings before the countyâs Director of Administration and held in early afternoons in a small room, without audio recording capability, in the county administration building in Elkton.
The two option agreement documents obtained by Cecil Times show that Moore wants to buy the Canine Care private boarding kennel, on a slightly more than two-acre site on a narrow country road in a residential area just outside the town of North East. Moore also signed an option to purchase agreement with the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA) for its much larger animal shelter facility, located on nearly 12 acres of land, for the same $400,000 figure. (Under state law, the county can sign multiple property purchase options but has the right to accept or reject a site after it does âdue diligenceâ reviews on the properties.)
In an interview with CECIL TIMES, county Director of Administration Al Wein and County Attorney Jason Allison said that the Moore administration had made no decision on how to proceed and whether it would purchase any of the optioned properties. Wein said there was no date set for the required public hearing, but he did say that Moore wanted to resolve the matter in the next few months in order to put in yet another request for a budget amendment in the current Fiscal 2016 budget year to buy a facility. He and Allison also said that Moore might cancel a still pending, and extended, âRequest for Proposalâ for a private vendor to operate an animal shelter, and instead bring the entire operation âin houseââwith county government employees, pay scales and county benefitsâto staff a county-owned animal shelter.
Wein and Allison said that Moore would seek yet another budget amendment in the current Fiscal 2016 budget year if she chose to purchase an animal shelter facilityâsince the county would not have time to allocate such a significant purchase to long term bond funds. The county recently decided to go to bond markets only every two years, and the latest schedule is going to market in the next few weeksâtoo soon to get things in order for charging an animal shelter purchase to bonds.
So, yet again, as Moore has done throughout her three years as County Executive, her plan is to draw money from the âunassigned fund balanceâ accountsâaccumulated for many years by past County Commissioners as hedges against future fiscal uncertainties. Moore has tapped those reserve funds repeatedly during her three years in office so as to avoid unpopular tax increases and balance her budget spending plans.
Meanwhile, one of Mooreâs suggested kennel purchase sites is Canine Care, owned by the three heirs to the estate of the recently deceased owner, which has an estimated 30 owner-built kennels and no ancillary spaces such as medical isolation or surgical units or quarantine areas for sick or vicious animals. The facility has been used as a private, short-term boarding kennel and pet grooming site for privately-owned pets. [ CECIL TIMES previously reported on the Shady Beach Road facility, its significant zoning issues in a residential area, and the Moore administrationâs interest in the site, here: http://ceciltimes.com/2015/11/cecil-times-special-report-moore-seeks-to-buy-kennel-in-residential-area-rfp-oversight-panel-buddies-questions-loom-large/]
In contrast, the CCSPCA facility was built for animal control of strays and potentially vicious animals, with all-masonry construction, 55 indoor/outdoor kennels with sanitation drains, an âopenâ cat room to house cats in a cage-free environment, a puppy nursery for mom dogs and newborn pups, a medical/surgical suite, medical isolation areas for sick cats and dogs, a âget acquaintedâ suite for families to bring children and other family pets to interact with potential adopted shelter animals, grooming and bathing areas, and secure, fenced-in outdoor exercise areas. The facility also has 7 fortified âquarantineâ kennel areas for vicious or dangerous dogs taken into custody that need to be separated from other dogs due to health or security concerns. The CCSPCA site also has a barn to house large animals, such as horses or pigs, taken into humane care.
(In the past, the CCSPCA barn housed âBubba,â a huge pig that came to the shelter as a tiny piglet who fell off a truck and was injured on Route 213. He became a childrenâs favorite on school tours, along with Billy and Heidi, rescued goats who also lived at the shelterâs barn.)
During the County Councilâs public worksession meeting last Tuesday, Wein sought to justify a spending increase for the Buddies in their six-month extended contract by saying that the Council had modified a Moore proposal to cut the county-paid âholding periodâ for stray animals from five calendar days to five âbusiness days,â which the administration has said really amounts to a seven-day county-paid holding period for strays animals. But in fact, the Buddies have been getting paid $60,000 a month for an eight-day âstray holdâ period under their three year contract that expired on 12/31/15. So the newly extended contract actually required the group to hold strays for less time than their previous contract.
While Moore had previously demanded an extra $24,000 from the County Council to give to the Buddies for their non-bid unilateral contract through 6/30/16, Wein suddenly cut that figure in half on Tuesday. In fact, CECIL TIMES had earlier exposed that extra money, as much as $15,000, would be pocketed by the Buddies by Mooreâs new deal with the group. Wein acknowledged that the county had deleted a past contract requirement for an independent audit of how the Buddies were spending taxpayer moneyâ facts that were exposed by Cecil Times. Once revealed, Wein then cut the extra spending request to the Council in half on Tuesday.
But that was still not enough to satisfy a majority of the County Council. Several members questioned Mooreâs animal control spending plans at the worksession, before the secret meeting on the plan to purchase a shelter facility.
âWe need to hold the line on our spending,â said Council President Robert Hodge (R-5). He noted that other agencies had to live with reduced spending in the current budget and the Buddies should do the same.