Cecil County to Buy SPCA Animal Shelter, Staff With County Employees at Unknown Cost; Moore Cancels Competitive Bids
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore has decided to bring all animal control services under county government, buying the Cecil County SPCA shelter in Chesapeake City for about $400,000 and also apparently hiring an unspecified number of new county government employees— potentially with full county pay and benefits—and without yet telling the public or County Council the full costs of her actions.
Moore’s administration notified competitive bidders Monday morning that she was killing their bids to provide animal control services, and several hours later issued a brief press release stating, without any budget or cost numbers, that she wanted government employees to operate animal services that in the past were handled by non-profit contractors.
She plans to put two animal control officers under the authority of Richard Brooks, the county’s second-highest paid employee, as head of Emergency Services. An unspecified number of shelter employees would be put on the payroll of David Trolio, the head of transportation and senior services who has recently expanded his portfolio into a new Department of Community Services.
Moore’s belated disclosures are due to be presented to the County Council Tuesday morning (3/15/16) at a worksession at which she is scheduled to appear. That presentation comes just a few hours before citizens will have a chance to comment at an evening Council public hearing on a previously pending Moore budget amendment resolution seeking $500,000 for purchase, renovation and equipment of an unspecified animal shelter location. Several Council members had previously questioned Moore’s demand for money before she specified what property she wanted to buy or what her overall plan for animal control was.
Moore’s secretive approach to the long controversial animal control issue has been highlighted for many months, since she issued a “request for proposals” (RFP) last summer. That competitive bidding process was supposed to yield a decision on a new contractor last year, but Moore unilaterally extended for six months a past $2.24 million three-year contract with A Buddy for Life, Inc., at an additional cost of $300,000 for six months.
But the Buddies recently cut way back on their hours of operation to the public because they wanted even more money than the County Council gave them. In addition, the Buddies’ rented shelter in Elkton has had a recent outbreak of the deadly parvo virus, which the Buddies and the county government kept secret despite the serious health risk to citizens visiting the facility and their pets. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES article here: http://ceciltimes.com/2016/03/deadly-dog-virus-at-buddy-shelter-but-cecil-county-citizens-not-told-county-imposes-belated-quarantine-but-shelter-kept-open/ ]
One of the bidders, Kevin Usilton, executive director of the First State Animal Center/Kent County (DE) SPCA, told Cecil Times he received the RFP cancellation notice Monday morning but was “not surprised.” He said he was frustrated and concerned with the entire process, in which his organization submitted bids to provide animal control/animal sheltering services to the Cecil County government.
“I was not really surprised, because it seemed like from the time we received their responses there was a whole different agenda,” Usilton said. During meetings with Cecil County officials, “they asked for many pieces of the puzzle and were surprised at the costs.”
Usilton said that, in response to the county’s demand for two separate bids—for a six month period in the current fiscal year from 1/1/16 to 6/3016, and for a full year beginning on 7/1/16, his organization bid $526,000 for the six month period in the current fiscal year and $1 million for the full Fiscal 2017 budget year. As part of the Delaware group’s bid, it proposed renting the Cecil County SPCA facility to provide a local county shelter to enhance locally accessible services to Cecil County residents and animals.
Jeanne Deeming, executive director of the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA), said that final paperwork on the sale of the shelter’s 12 acre property, including the main shelter, a barn for rescued large animals and a smaller building, had not yet been finalized so her comments must be limited. However, she noted that after existing debts are paid off, the CCSPCA could still operate as a non-profit animal rescue operation and that the group’s bylaws provide that if it were to go out of operation—which Deeming said is not the plan—any remaining money would have to be donated to an animal charity.
Deeming did say that the CCSPCA’s bid under the RFP for the six-month period of the current county budget, from 1/1/16 through 6/30/16, did comply with the reduced spending levels specified by the County Council adopted budget, for $50,000 per month, and complied with mandated hours of operation.
In contrast, the Buddies tried to get an extra $25,000 above the Council approved budget, but after the Council refused to boost the Buddie’s pay, Moore’s administration OK’d a major 15-hour per week cutback in services from 39 hours a week to just 24 hours.
Moore has had three years to figure out the animal control issue, and instead of consulting broadly with local groups and citizens, has conducted a largely private and secretive review of options. CECIL TIMES has obtained Moore’s schedule under a Maryland Public Information Act filing to learn of, and previously report about, the dates and locations at which she has visited government owned and/or operated animal shelter-animal control facilities.
Moore and two senior aides—County Director of Administration Al Wein and County Attorney Jason Allison—spent a full day last year in Frederick County consulting with the new County Executive, Jan Gardner, on that county’s fully government operated animal control and animal shelter operations. Gardner is a Democrat who received a personal campaign finance contribution from the Republican Moore in Gardner’s campaign for county executive, according to state elections board records.
Moore’s preliminary outlines of her plans for Cecil County animal control and shelter services appear to be patterned after the Frederick County program. According to public disclosures, the Frederick County government-operated animal control and animal shelter program kills about half of the strays taken into custody at taxpayer expense.
In Fiscal 2015, the Frederick County animal control program euthanized about half of the animals it took in, after returning some strays to their owners. With a total intake of 4,558 animals, less 622 pets returned to owners and 1,637 animals adopted or transferred to rescue groups, there were 2,001 animals euthanized, according to official records posted on the county website.