Cecil County Animal Services Overspends Budget, Asks $140K from Reserve Funds; Choice Between Cat Kibble or Ambulance?

April 17, 2019
By

A CECIL TIMES Special Report

NEWS ANALYSIS

Cecil County’s Animal Services agency is overspending its current Fiscal 2019 budget and is asking for an infusion of $140,000 immediately, drawn from a county fiscal reserve fund that is supposed to be off-limits for current spending. In addition, the agency is seeking a 41.7 percent operating budget boost in the proposed fiscal 2020 budget and adding 2.5 full-time-equivalent workers to its payroll—the highest number of any unit of county government.

The full cost of the county’s animal services program is not even reflected in its own budget, with operations and maintenance costs of its Chesapeake City facility buried in an overall county property management account and its vehicle replacement costs shifted into the countywide vehicle “fleet” account.

In the new Fiscal 2020 budget, Animal Services is seeking a 41.7 percent increase in its operating budget, bringing those costs to $1,097,415. In addition, maintenance of the shelter is budgeted separately at $64,565, a 21.2 percent increase over the current budget year. The total request amounts to $1,161,980.

But even before the County Council reviews the new budget, Councilors are now being asked to make a significant transfer of funds in the current fiscal year, drawn from budget “reserve” fund accounts. The extra money is being sought due to an influx of animals, officials said. But statistics show the influx is directly related to a policy to boost cat intake, which reports show are consistently at least twice the number of dogs taken into care.

Significantly, the Animal Services request for a budget amendment in the current fiscal year, which was introduced to the Cecil County Council on Tuesday (4/16/2019), also sets up a potential contrast, in political as well as fiscal terms, between tapping reserve funds now to assist the cat-dominated short-term operations of the shelter versus providing funds in the new budget for long-term vital emergency services for humans.

The $140,000 sought by Animal Services as a mid-budget add-on would more than pay the $125,000 cost of the county’s share of a new (human) ambulance that was left out of the new budget proposed recently by County Executive Alan McCarthy. His Fiscal 2020 budget provided for a new ambulance for the Cecilton Volunteer Fire Company but did not provide funds for ambulances sought by the Water Witch (Port Deposit) and North East fire companies. (Traditionally, the county pays half the cost of ambulances or fire engines while the individual volunteer fire company obtains grants or does fundraising to pay the balance of the costs.)

“We are disappointed that the new budget did not include our full request,” said Wayne Tome, president of the county’s Fireman’s Association and the EMS chief for the Water Witch company, which is next in line for a new ambulance. “We hope that the county will find a way” to provide the needed funds to the volunteer fire companies, he added.

Procedurally, the County Council cannot increase spending in the new budget proposed by the County Executive. But the executive could propose a budget amendment under the new budget after it is adopted that could assist an ambulance purchase. That is essentially what he did in the current budget, when he allocated surplus funds mid-year to restore money he had cut from the fire companies in his original Fiscal 2019 budget. [The Council is also under no budget obligation to approve the Animal Services spending add-on now, and refusal to boost that spending would leave greater budget flexibility in the future for other needs.]

On Tuesday, David Trolio, director of the county’s Department of Community Services that oversees the Animal Services operations, and Abigail Bingham, director of Animal Services, told the County Council that they needed a $140,000 budget amendment right now because of a rising number of animals coming to the shelter over the course of the last year or more.

Documents submitted to the state Department of Agriculture, as required by state law, show that the Cecil County government-owned and operated shelter has logged a massive increase in the number of cats being brought into county-paid care. Bingham said the increase is due to a greater level of public “trust” in the county shelter, in comparison with past operations by non-profit groups that ran a shelter under a flat-fee contract with the county government. (The county took over control of all animal operations on 7/1/2016, with its own employees earning full county health and pension benefits as well as government-scale salaries.)

But she also acknowledged the impact of a policy shift she instituted to open the doors to all cats. “In the past, cats were often turned away,” she said. “We are not going to turn those animals away.”

As a result, the county facility has primarily become a cat shelter, by a consistently two-to-one ratio, or more, of cats to dogs. Under state and local county law, cats are allowed to “roam free,” and are not subject to license or leash laws. However, owned cats must have rabies shots under state law.

For Fiscal 2018, the last full year for which statistics are available, Trolio told the Council that the shelter took in 792 dogs and 1,714 cats. He said the current budget allocation was simply not enough to accommodate the volume of animals.

He did not mention the recent case of alleged animal cruelty and neglect resulting in seizure of 63 dogs from a private non-profit rescue group. That case resulted in the filing of 44 counts of animal cruelty and neglect against Crystal Romine, operator of Eden Rehab and Rescue. A trial is set for late May. After the seizure, animal services appealed for donations and supplies from the public and posted pictures on social media of huge piles of boxes sent by donors via an Amazon wishlist and other supplies provided by the public for the dogs’ care.

Meanwhile, Trolio told the Council that a $138,426 donation has been made, by the estate of a woman who had adopted a cat from the shelter, in order to expand the current cat room and a laundry room at the Chesapeake City shelter. The gift is restricted to that purpose and cannot be used for other needs or operating expenses.

When the county took over the shelter, formerly owned by the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc., it re-configured what had been an open cat room, where cats could wander freely, into a smaller room including cages and put in two steep and narrow steps that created obstacles to access for handicapped humans. The room was previously compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act that would allow access by wheelchair users or other humans with physical disabilities.

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3 Responses to Cecil County Animal Services Overspends Budget, Asks $140K from Reserve Funds; Choice Between Cat Kibble or Ambulance?

  1. Jeanne on April 18, 2019 at 6:36 pm

    Makes me want to cry. The place is filthy, and dogs are farmed out to other counties and states.

  2. Wayne Tome, Sr. on April 19, 2019 at 10:22 am

    THANKS for the supporting comments for the VOLUNTEERS! Singerly Fire Company of Elkton was not funded for a Fire Engine at $325,000 that lies ahead in priority. To make us whole in FY20 we need the County Executive to add another $575,000.

  3. Sam Goldwater on April 19, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    Public Safety is the first government responsibility. While the government does many “nice to do” things, their real reason for existance is our collective safety. Namely Police, Fire, and Public Health. After that everything else is optional.

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