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