ELKTON — County Executive Tari Moore announced plans Monday to purchase the former Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) facility on Route 213 and staff it with county employees by July 1, ending a years-long discussion on the future of county animal care and control services.
After reviewing a number of other operations in other counties and even making some site visits, Moore told the Whig she “discovered that the best-run animal control operations were done by government agencies.”
The decision to move the services in-house prompted her to terminate the request for proposal process, which started last year and yielded four respondents, and to exercise the county’s option to purchase the former SPCA facility near Chesapeake City, dropping the option on a shelter on Shady Beach Road near North East.
The four bidders for the contract included the current operator A Buddy for Life; the former SPCA; First State Animal Center and SPCA of Camden, Del.; and Wildlife Damage Control from Chestertown. All the bidders have been notified of the decision to not contract out services, and Moore said officials will be working with A Buddy for Life to ensure a smooth transition.
The new county-operated facility will have a “no-kill philosophy,” according to Moore, but will not operate as a hard-line, no-kill facility.
“That is simply not sustainable or affordable,” she told the Whig.
A Buddy for Life has operated as a no-kill shelter since assuming the county’s animal care and control operation on Jan. 1, 2013, meaning Moore’s proposal would move away from such a stance.
Critics have long complained that it was difficult to ascertain whether county funding was being used to subsidize care for animals moved into A Buddy for Life’s private foster care system while they awaited placement to new owners. Officials with the contracted organization denied those claims and said county funding was only used to care for animals held in the county-specified holding period.
Moore’s proposal also puts animal control under the supervision of Cecil County Department of Emergency Services Director Richard Brooks and puts the animal shelter operation under Cecil County Department of Community Services Director David Trolio.
“The shelter operation is more of a community outreach,” she said. “While animal control has a different function.”
The Cecil County Council heard directly from Moore on her decision during their Tuesday morning work session, where she brought Trolio, Brooks and County Facilities Manager Steve Kuhls to the table.
After explaining the two-year process leading up to the decision to the council, Moore said she will schedule a site visit for the council to see facility before their scheduled vote on the budget amendment April 5.
Council President Robert Hodge pressed Moore to see a budget pro-forma, before it is presented to the council.
“You will see the specific numbers we budget for this facility as part of the budget process,” she replied.
Council Vice President Alan McCarthy, who is campaigning to replace her as county executive, told Moore and her staff that he thinks a lot of mistakes have been made over the years with animal control services, blaming recent problems on a series of unfortunate incidents.
“The positive news now is that this nightmare will be over, the county is getting an excellent price on a facility in a good location for future expansion,” said McCarthy, who also has a background in veterinary medicine.
“I’ll support this,” he said, telling Moore she’s done the best she could do under the circumstances.
Moore assured the council that the budget request for the first year of operation will be very close to what the county has been spending for animal control services the last three years.
While the original purchase option for the SPCA facility and its accompanying 12 acres was for $400,000, they negotiated it down to $395,000 plus an additional $25,000 for equipment. That represents a considerable discount on the property’s assessed value, which is nearly $890,000 as of July 1, according to state records.
Calls to Jeanne Deeming, executive director of the Cecil County SPCA, seeking comment on how the proceeds of the property sale would be used were not returned by press time Tuesday.
“We think this change will benefit county taxpayers by providing a cost savings of $1.2 million over 20 years for the cost of the facility, and allow the county to use ‘best practices’ policies and procedures with enhanced transparency for citizens,” Moore said in a press release.
The cost savings calculations are based on reducing the former $15,000 a month rent paid by A Buddy for Life to its landlord to an estimated debt service payment of $3,000 a month to purchase the building. The county’s most recent animal control contract was proposed by the administration at $720,000, but cut by the county council to $660,000. Moore said she hopes to not exceed this budget and perhaps be able to reduce it in utilizing a county-owned operation.
Brooks told the council Tuesday that his department is prepared to absorb the new responsibilities under Moore’s proposal.
“It’s a natural fit for us,” Brooks said of his new oversight role in animal control, adding his department will equip the animal control officers with department radios. “We are already a 24-7 dispatch operation which fits into the needs for animal control.”
Trolio envisions the new county-operated animal shelter to be cost-effective, transparent and efficient with open communications, strict policies and clear goals for staff and animal care and control committee members.
“One of our first goals is to hire qualified staff,” he said, noting the county is already advertising for an animal shelter supervisor with a salary range of $49,000 to $77,000.
They will also likely hire a veterinarian technician, two kennel technicians, one office manager, one administrative person and two animal control officers — one of whom will be a supervisor. Plans also include contracting with an on-call veterinarian.
Meanwhile, Moore’s proposal will still need several approvals from the county council, starting first on April 5 on whether to approve the administration’s request to increase bond budget authority within the 2016 approved general fund Capital Improvement Program by $500,000 to purchase the facility, including repairs and equipment.