Cecil County Exec Tells Council to ‘Wait’ for full Animal Control Costs; Shelter Buy Gets Positive Response but Problems with Moore ‘Facts’

March 16, 2016
By

A CECIL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT

NEWS ANALYSIS

A majority of the Cecil County Council indicated support this week for county purchase of an existing private animal shelter facility, but some members reserved judgment on County Executive Tari Moore’s plan to create a fully government-operated program, with county worker payscales and benefits. But Moore refused to say how much total county operation of the program would cost.

Many of her proposals fly in the face of financial facts about operations of animal control services in the state, including her claim that she can create a government-related non-profit charity to get grants and donors to subsidize the employment of government workers with county payscales and benefits. In fact, her proposals run counter to the trend of local governments increasingly moving to contract with private non-profit groups to operate government- owned shelter facilities to save taxpayer money. And Moore is putting most of the power to create and oversee her new untested animal services plan into the hands of one county employee whose experience and portfolio covers transit buses and a senior citizens exercise facility.

Moore, who has conducted a secret and unilateral review of county animal control options for several years, finally spoke in public about her plans for the future of animal control services on Tuesday (3/15/16) before the County Council at both a morning worksession and as a speaker at the evening Council “Citizens’ Corner” public dialogue session. But she refused to reveal the full costs of operating a government-owned and operated program, telling councilors at the worksession that they had to wait until her 4/1/16 budget is released to learn the full costs.

But even before her budget is released, Moore is asking the Council to approve a $500,000 budget amendment in the current budget year to allow her to purchase the animal shelter now owned by the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPA) in Chesapeake City, do renovations and buy needed equipment. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2016/03/cecil-county-to-buy-spca-animal-shelter-staff-with-county-employees-at-unknown-cost-moore-cancels-competitive-bids-for-animal-services/ ]

Moore only disclosed which of two properties she wanted the county to purchase on Tuesday, well after her budget amendment was sent to the Council to OK spending on an unspecified shelter purchase of about $400,000 plus $100,000 for repairs and equipment acquisition. On Tuesday, Moore said she had gotten a $395,000 property purchase price from the CCSPCA for its 12-acres of land, 7,400 square foot shelter, a barn, and an extra smaller building , plus $25,000 to buy medical and other animal care equipment owned by the CCSPCA. The property is valued by state tax assessors at over $880,000—making the $395,000 proposed county purchase price a bargain, or a “steal,” in many ways.

Indeed, several councilors said as much, with Councilor George Patchell (R-4), observing that it would likely cost at least $1.5 million to build a new shelter, plus land costs, for a facility of that size. Patchell said he supported purchase of the CCSPCA site at such a bargain price, but he reserved judgement on Moore’s plan to staff it with government employees. “You could go contractual,” he said, for staffing and operating a county-owned facility by a non-profit contractor for potentially lower costs. Patchell has been an independent-minded councilor on budget matters, and last year voiced incisive questions on county spending issues.

County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) observed that he thought purchase of the CCSPCA site was a ‘no brainer’ due to its low purchase price and the long term savings of county ownership versus the current costs of renting an Elkton kennel. But he said the current budget amendment only freed up money for a property purchase but did not commit the county to buy it.

The current Moore-supported contractor, A Buddy for Life, Inc., cost taxpayers $15,000 per month for the past three years just in rental payments to retired Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Dexter Thompson and his wife. Since January, that rental payment by the county was cut to $8,000 per month. Overall, county taxpayers have paid a total of $2.24 million to the Buddy for Life contractor over a three year contract, plus $300,000 for the first six months of 2016 under a Tari Moore unilateral contract extension.

Council Vice President Alan McCarthy (R-1), who is a candidate for county executive to replace Moore and is also a licensed veterinarian, made a spirited commentary at the worksession, saying that in his many years in the county as a vet and a former volunteer at the CCSPCA, he was impressed with the quality of services provided by the CCSPCA. He said he supported county purchase of the CCSPCA shelter at such a bargain price but preferred that a private non-profit contractor operated the facility. But he seemed to acquiesce to Moore’s muscle, saying that it seemed like there was no other option after Moore unilaterally cancelled private bids under a ‘Request for Proposals” to operate animal services.

(CECIL TIMES has obtained documents indicating that some bidders under the Moore-cancelled RFP would have provided animal control/animal care services for significantly lower costs. We will be reporting on those issues in the future.)

Some of Moore’s proposals are also at odds with the facts of animal control operations in the state, including her belief that she can get private donors to subsidize government workers with full county payscales and benefits. Moore told the Council she thinks the county can create its own 501c3 “charity” group to obtain grants to offset costs of a government owned and operated animal shelter– but policies of many grant-makers state otherwise.

While Moore did not specifically mention a Baltimore City non-profit group that deals with animal shelter operations there, her similar proposal for Cecil County turns the fundamental concept of the Baltimore program on its head. (Moore’s past work and meeting schedules obtained by CECIL TIMES under a Public Information Act filing showed visits to various government-owned animal shelters in the state, but did not list a visit to the Baltimore facility.)

The Baltimore Animal Care and Rescue Shelter, Inc., (BARCS) is a non-profit 501c3 organization that was created in 2005 to take over operations of the former deeply troubled Baltimore City government owned and operated shelter. BARCS rents the property from the city for $1 a year and the city continues to run animal control (“dogcatcher”) operations with city employees. BARCS receives a city subsidy/donation of $1.2 million a year, as of Fiscal 2015, but otherwise operates independently.

In fact, BARCS was created to save money, and decrease euthanasia rates, because too much money was being spent on government employees running the facility with full city payscales and benefits that put employee pay ahead of services to animals. BARCS had many stumbles in its first few years of operation as it sought to dislodge the government employees and replace them with private employees willing to work for lower pay and benefits.

Because BARCS is officially and legally separate from the city government, it can obtain grants to help support services to the animals. Most animal charities specifically bar grants to government-related entities. By having a Cecil County government facility operated by county employees, rather than an independent non-profit contractor operating a government-owned facility, Moore’s claims that the county-related group will get lots of grants are unsupported by facts.

Furthermore, having a government-related “charity” soliciting donations would undercut fundraising efforts by private non-profit groups in the area for their “rescue” and animal welfare efforts. The county-related “charity” would, in effect, be soliciting donations to help pay for or offset the higher salaries and benefits of government employees. Most local animal rescues and charities rely on volunteers or low-paid workers and spend most of their donated funds on direct care of animals.

Moore’s plan also runs counter to the area trend away from high-cost government-operated animal shelters, such as in Queen Anne’s county on the Upper Shore. That county has owned an animal shelter facility for many years and until about three years ago, staffed it with government employees. For years, Queen Anne’s had the highest per-capita costs of animal services in the area, as the only fully government operated program, frequently running at up to twice the population-adjusted costs of animal services in Cecil County when services were contracted to the CCSPCA.

Faced with the budget issues, Queen Anne’s county government contracted with the non-profit Animal Welfare League of Queen Anne’s County to operate the shelter, which is still owned by the county government. The county still employs animal control officers, under the Sheriff, but direct animal care is handled by the private contractor. By ending government worker payscales and benefits, that county is saving its taxpayers millions of dollars, according to county budget documents.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 Responses to Cecil County Exec Tells Council to ‘Wait’ for full Animal Control Costs; Shelter Buy Gets Positive Response but Problems with Moore ‘Facts’

  1. Vince Pfeiffer on March 17, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    If only our county infrastructure generated as much interest and concern, as the county council has spent for an animal shelter. It seems Cecil County has been sold a bill of goods with this council. There seems to be no end to spending opportunities. Of course the old shelter is a bargain. After all, with such a wonderful bargain and opportunity, why haven’t we seen private organizations step up to the plate and reap the benefits of said deal?

    Has anyone given any thought to the fact that economic growth and opportunity in this county are at a stand still. The cost of doing business is outrageous. Taxes and fees are disincentives to business. Yet here you all are, wanting to spend a half a million taxpayer dollars for an animal shelter? Checks and balances anyone. Private behind closed door deals, transparency in government, all absent anymore.

  2. Ron Lobos on March 18, 2016 at 8:15 am

    Just curious, does this property even perk? Have we had a licensed General Appraiser appraise this property to see what it is really worth? Who put this $500,000 price tag on this property? Hasn’t this property been sitting vacant for quite some time? Have we negotiated the asking price down or are we just willing to pay the asking price for this improved piece of property? These are questions that a private business would ask before making a purchase.

  3. Jonathan Hart on March 18, 2016 at 8:44 am

    You are so correct Mr. Pfeiffer. If one was to do a cost analysis on the labor and other expenses on animal control,our taxes could have been lowered by a substantial amount in the past three years. Because the County Executive was unwilling to terminate the contract with Buddy’s, this is the price we now have to pay? Had they not put the screws to the SPCA in 2012, and continued to accept non performance from this current group, they would have had no need for all this nonsense.

    Why have the RFP’s not been made available to the County Council so they can do their own evaluation of the need for the County to add additional costs to their already top heavy labor costs plus fringe benefits. Call me suspicious, but the simple fact that Moore is unwilling to reveal the cost of the county staffing and supervising her new program– until after her budget comes out– makes me wonder of those costs will be substantially higher than the cost projected on the RFP’s.

  4. Rebecca Demmler on March 19, 2016 at 10:15 am

    Some who are complaining now have no idea of the history that has led us here. Others have long been aware and complained about the SPCA, then they complained about Buddy for Life. Now they complain about this latest attempt at solution for problems associated with animal control in Cecil County.

    There have been many years of furor surrounding animal care and costs associated with it. Because past arrangements have been contractual, (after five days the animal becomes sole property of the business) the public has been unable to obtain full disclosure of costs associated with that business. This has been of concern because these contracted services have been very expensive to the taxpayer.

    With the 2009 accusations of mistreatment of animals at the SPCA, the public DEMANDED we find another vendor. Much time, many meetings, and forming of committees led to the present animal care yet, extreme discontent continues.

    Past experience has taught that in order to ensure full transparency and accountability of expenses and care of animals that the final solution must be to place animal control in the hands of county government. Surely those who have been paying attention these many years and are aware of the ongoing turbulence surrounding the cost and care of abandoned, mistreated, etc. animals will support this move.

    EDITOR’s NOTE: The allegations against the SPCA by former Del. Mike Smigiel were investigated by State Police and the Caroline County State’s Attorney, at the direction of the State Attorney General. The probe exonerated the SPCA and found that some of Smigiel’s ‘witnesses’ failed a polygraph test and admitted fabrications.

    • Rebecca Demmler on March 20, 2016 at 12:28 pm

      Re: Editor’s note: Although it is true that the investigation showed that the accusations were false, this point was moot as far as the general public was concerned. Those who were horrified and embroiled in the chaotic aftermath of Delegate Smigiels charges were so thoroughly convinced of wrong-doing that demands of change remained strong. That public didn’t care what the investigation proved. I clearly recall the accusations that the government and law-enforcement were working together in a “good-ol’-boys” network.(whatever that was supposed to be.) The bottom line: the public’s outrage and refusal to accept the findings of the investigation led us to the present. The public that finds fault with this and laments about that, are continuing to grouse about the latest attempt at a resolution to the historical problems associated with animal care. Articles full of misleading and slanted information detract from the steps necessary to finally achieve what the public has demanded–full transparency in both care and finances. At this point in time, that solution hopefully will be found by placing animal control in the hands of local government.

    • Cecil Taxpayer on March 20, 2016 at 1:23 pm

      Mrs. Demmler is posting comments elsewhere on social media saying that she supports Tari Moore’s “FINAL SOLUTION” for animal control by having it handled by government employees at a government owned building.

      In case Mrs. Demmler is so historigally ignorant, the term “FINAL SOLUTION” was used by Hitler to describe his plan to exterminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth– and he killed 6 million Jews with his “final solution.”

      Of course, there is no real comparison in any rational person’s mind between the shocking murder of the Jewish people and the local issue of how to handle stray animals. But the use of such language is offensive to many people.

      It seems our county executive is following the role model of the Frederick County government for her new plan with full government operated and controlled animals services. As I have already read about, that county government operation kills about half of all the animals it takes in and that ration of animal kills is terrible.

      But that is really a different question from the shameful and offensive language that Mrs. Demmler uses in such a discussion.

  5. Rebecca Demmler on March 20, 2016 at 11:05 pm

    I am in shock. I have long been aware of Mrs. Schwerzler’s poison pen, but this accusation goes beyond any semblance of reason. I was expressing my hope for a resolution (solution) to years of unrest associated with animal control here in Cecil County (which hopefully will be final). With spite and evil rancor she insinuates that I’m showing insensitivity to Hitler’s killing of Jews? What asinine rubbish. Shame on you.

    • Debbie Moore on March 21, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      You speak with forked tongue Mrs. Demmler. Transparency has been the furthest from the truth in this current administration. For years, Tari Moore has covered up for Buddy’s and all of this could have been terminated at the first breach of contract. Instead, she has continued on the same path as the former 3 Amigos and lied and covered up the atrocities going on at the Buddy’s. Never had the SPCA ever been so negligent and abusive to the animals as Buddy’s has. Do your homework before you speak Mrs. Demmler, you are obviously out of touch.

      • Rebecca Demmler on March 23, 2016 at 1:12 am

        I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been out of touch with the detail of operation of Buddy for Life. But, I suspect, as was the case with the former SPCA, there has been much good work accomplished while needing to dodge constant complaint tossed by the public.

        Again Cecil County has had a history of questions and public unrest relating to contractual arrangements for the care of “county animals” (unwanted, mistreated, lost, etc.) Your obvious disdain for “Buddy” and belief that there should be a termination of that contract supports my argument that there has been conflict relating to contractual service.

        Steps are being taken to terminate that contract in order to begin a new paradigm. Instead of anger, I would think this would bring praise that this change will finally allow full access to finances and will open the door for more careful inspection.

        Your comments indicate that you believe change in animal care can be easily made. It isn’t as if decision makers can wave a magic wand and POOF there sits another business or team ready to take on the role of animal control. This is a complicated function which, by County Code, dictates a bidding process. Past bidding has proved that few in the county are equipped to take on this role.

        I’ve heard some chatter that volunteers or other groups would be a solution without need of taxpayer funding. Although this might seem logical to the well-intentioned, the actual ‘nuts and bolts’ of operation show that not only is this impractical, but as per county regulation, would be illegal. Please take the time to go to ccgov.org, click on “County Code,” and read chapter 142.

        With the benefit of past experience, I continue to believe that the most plausible resolution is that care of “county” animals fall under control OF the county.

        • Jeanette Houle on March 23, 2016 at 12:39 pm

          You really are out of touch since you should certainly be aware that there were 4 vendors who submitted bids on animal control and animal sheltering. Transparency is lacking and those bids should be available to the Council for review. How can Council make an educated decision without this information. It is so easy to say that the cost will be similar to the past but how do we know that one of the vendors are not able to provide the service for less. Makes no sense to those of us who have to foot the bill. The fact that they will be a “kill” shelter should certainly be an issue with those who have encouraged the county take over of animal control and rescue.

    • Jeanette Houle on March 21, 2016 at 5:28 pm

      Are you saying, Mrs Demmler, that if you were on the County Council you would be OK with all the secrecy that Tari Moore and her “team” has exhibited? As I recall, you made certain that your voice was heard whether we liked it or not. I am appalled that you would encourage the increase in county employees with an increased cost and liability to the county taxpayers.

      Hopefully the current Council will have enough sense to vote down the staffing of the animal care and control and the rescue. Give me one good reason why we, the taxpayers should fund dog and cat rescue when that is the function of a not for profit group.

      Thank goodness for the Cecil Times and Mrs. Schweizer for bringing these activities to the attention of the County taxpayers. We certainly won’t get accurate reporting or informed analysis from other county publications.

      • Valerie on March 22, 2016 at 5:26 pm

        You were already funding a non profit with taxpayer money. That’s what ABFL was using taxpayers money to run their rescue with, Which was in breach of contract.

  6. Laura Fischer on March 22, 2016 at 8:56 am

    No one has asked the question but since I have had such a bad encounter with the current dog catchers I want to know that these individuals will not be hired by the County to continue their reign of terror on the animal owners of Cecil County. Give me an answer Tari Moore.

  7. Gaylord Moody III on March 22, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    Ms Demmler’s commentary is objective and well informed.

    The slanders against the former SPCA blurred the distinction between animal control and advocacy of the humane treatment of animals.

    From a public health perspective, which is the only view that government should take, feral cats are ecological nightmares, and unadoptable dogs should not become wards of the state.

    It is not unkind to put down stray animals, especially if they have been advertised for adoption for some reasonable period.

    The failure of citizens to recognize the distinction between animal control and advocacy of humane treatment of animals makes it difficult to discuss and define a cost effective public policy toward animal control.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ALAN McCARTHY for COUNTY EXEC

*THANK YOU, CECIL COUNTY VOTERS!

* I am grateful for your support and I heard your voices on issues that concern you. I will work hard to create jobs, expand economic development, back our law enforcement officers in the fight against crime and drugs, and support strong schools..

*We will work together to make Cecil County "The Best It Can Be."

(Auth: Friends of Alan McCarthy, Roger Owens, Treas.)

https://www.facebook.com/Dr-Alan-McCarthy-for-Cecil-County-Executive-1633697220231788/?fref=ts