Cecil Co Exec Moore Demands $500K to Buy Animal Shelter, Won’t Say Where or Who Would Run it; Singing Secret Tune?
âYou just slip out the back, Jack (Robert Hodge)
Make a new plan, Stan (Alan McCarthy)
You don’t need to be Coy, Roy (Dan Schneckenburger)
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus (George Patchell)
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, LeeâŚ(Joyce Bowlsbey)â
–Paul Simon, â50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,â as Moore-dified to County Council on shelter plan
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore is asking the County Council to sign a blank check for $500,000 so she can buy property for a county-owned animal shelter, but wonât say where it is, or who would operate a county facility at what additional cost, according to documents submitted to the Council. Furthermore, documents suggest she may come back later for even more taxpayer money to buy a second animal facility.
In addition, the Council and Moore have settled on two citizen appointees to a Moore-administration controlled Animal Control Oversight Board. Neither man has any previous experience in Cecil County animal control matters. And new fiscal reports show that A Buddy for Life, Inc., currently providing animal services under a county contract, suddenly spent $7,800 in âmaintenance fundsâ in the last three months of 2015 even though they rent and do not own an Elkton kennel.
Furthermore, Moore and some other top county officials seem to be laboring under an odd notion, not in practice in other area government-owned shelters, that strays should be kept at one facility for a brief holding period and then transported to another county-owned facility that could be operated by a private ârescueâ group to care for animals after a brief county-subsidized five business day holding period. Apart from duplication of staff, space, supplies, transport expenses and logistics, such a concept does not take into account the impact on animals of multiple moves and confusion of animal owners on where to go when searching for lost pets.
Specifically, Moore is now asking the Council to approve a budget amendment that would provide $400,000 to buy a property and another $100,000 to renovate and equip an animal shelter, using county capital bonds that were issued for other projects in the current Fiscal 2016 budget. (Moore did not specify which other projects would be short-changed to shift the money to purchase, repair and equip an animal shelter.) But since the county is not scheduled to go back to the bond/borrowing market for another two years, some other already-approved project or projects apparently could be slowed down to make way for the quick purchase of a shelter.
The latest moves by Moore continue a pattern of secrecy and exclusion of the County Council and citizens as she goes about attempting to come up with an animal control program, despite the fact that she has had over three years to do so and resolve the controversy over caring for stray animals that has plagued the county since a more than $2.24 million, three-year contract was given to the private A Buddy for Life, Inc. animal rescue group. That pact expired 12/31/2015 but Moore unilaterally extended it for another six months, with options to renew for another year.
Instead of coming forward to the County Council and citizens with a comprehensive program and proposal for animal control services, and subjecting it to public discussion and input, Moore is drizzling out bits and pieces without any clear big picture. She has also unilaterally suspended action on a âRequest for Proposalsâ or RFP issued last summer that received competitive bids from four private groups seeking to operate animal control services for the county. A contract was due to be signed 12/1/15 under that process but Moore alone decided instead to extend the Buddies pact.
That RFP competitive bidding process expires 3/31/16 and unless a decision is made on who will operate an animal shelter is made by then, the whole competitive bidding process would have to be started all over again, which could take another five months. Moore has also left open the option, not specified in the RFP, of taking the entire animal sheltering/animal control services âin house,â with county employees receiving county benefits and pay grades, at an unknown cost.
Moore must present a new Fiscal 2017 budget to the County Council on April 1, which may spell out further plans. But in legislation submitted to the Council for introduction on Tuesday 2/16/16, Moore wants to get her $500,000 shelter purchase approved within days of that submission with a Council vote on 4/5/15– but before the council has begun any meetings or deliberations on the overall budget proposals. But even with the April 1 budget deadline looming, Moore has submitted multiple budget amendments to the Council, on animal control and other matters, throughout the budget year so the full scope of her plans may not be known until later in the new budget year.
Moore has been operating totally outside the competitive bidding RFP process for the past several months as she and her senior aides have gone house hunting to buy a property at taxpayer expense at which animals would be housed. None of the bidders in the RFP process offered a property for sale to the county. Moore recently signed two property purchase âoptions,â at a price of $400,000 each, for the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. 12-acre property and shelter on the state-maintained Route 213 in Chesapeake City, and the private Canine Care boarding kennel on Shady Beach Road outside North East, located on a narrow road on about 2 acres in a residential area.
(The option process does not bind the county to buy both properties, but gives the government the right to inspect the premises and decide whether to proceed with a purchase contract. State law requires public hearings on signed option agreements before any contract to buy is completed, but the county has not yet scheduled hearings on the options.)
Mooreâs new request to the Council says she anticipates buying one property at a cost of $400,000, plus an extra $100,000 to renovate and equip a county shelter facility. In addition, a âfiscal noteâ submitted separately to the Council states that the executive intends âto acquire at least one and possibly additional sites in order to provide animal care and control services to the County in a most efficient and accessible manner.â
Sources told Cecil Times that county officials have inspected both the Canine Care and CCSPCA facilities, but there have also been discussions about a possible third property. But no public notice of any other property option has been disclosed.
Cecil Times contacted county Director of Administration Al Wein last Friday, with questions about scheduling hearings on the two known options, any possible third property purchase option, and a timetable for disclosures or decisions on who would operate a potential county owned animal facility. We await his response and will update this report if it is provided.
The fiscal note attached to the new legislation claims that spending $500,000 on one county shelter would save over $1.1 million over 20 years in comparison with the current rental arrangements. But that figure does not take into account ongoing property maintenance costs, equipment replacement costs, utilities expenses, etc., in the future that in the past were covered by a landlord or a private group operating its own shelter under a fee-for-services contract with the county, such as the contract held for many years between the county and the CCSPCA.
But Moore is hiding behind the confidentiality provisions of the RFP process to keep secret the potential costs of the bidders who proposed offering services without selling a property to the county. How can citizens, or the Council, evaluate the relative merits and costs if no one but Moore and her top aides know if there were cheaper options available under the RFP process– or what the true taxpayer costs would be for ongoing maintenance and operations of a county-owned facility outside the RFP process?
Meanwhile, the County Council has decided to appoint Arny Fox, of North East, a retired federal Defense Department employee, as the Council representative to a new Moore-administration controlled Animal Control Oversight Board. (Moore unilaterally suspended the former all-citizen Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission a year ago, and replaced it with a majority county government employee panel whose members are employed by and report to her. The group has not held a public meeting in over a year.) Fox worked as executive director of the Montgomery County, MD Humane Society for 10 years after graduating from Northeastern University, with his employment there ending over 30 years ago.
Moore has picked as her citizen appointee S. Lee Lewis, of North East, the artistic director of the Milburn Stone Theater at Cecil College. He is said to have a beautiful singing voice, according to reviews of productions on social media, and has adopted three dogs. Neither of the appointees has had any visible or knowledgeable role in county animal shelter issues, and their lack of knowledge of local issues was considered a âplus,â sources said. Regardless, even if they had independent viewpoints, they would be out-voted by the executiveâs own employees on the panel.