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News and Views for Cecil County and the Eastern Shore of Maryland
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    ANALYSIS When one-term Perryville town commissioner Michael A. Dawson declared a few months ago that he would not seek re-election to the post he had only won by one vote, town officials and many residents breathed a sigh of relief. During his brief two-year tenure, Dawson created a whirlwind of controversy, with online attacks and unsubstantiated accusations against fellow elected officials, town employees and even local businesspeople. It was the only government elective office he had ever won, despite numerous losing campaigns for County Commissioner, County Executive and mayor of Perryville. And his one-vote win on the town council was widely attributed to voter confusion of this Michael A. Dawson, a Prince George’s County transplant known locally as “MAD Mike,” with Michael W. Dawson– a Perryville resident with generations of family roots in the community and a former candidate for another state delegate seat in 2010. So when MAD Dawson said just a few months ago that he was retiring from local politics to spend more time with his family, most people took him at his word. But last week, MAD Dawson filed papers with the state Board of Elections declaring his candidacy in the Republican primary for a newly-redrawn [...]

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    A Cecil Times Special Report A state veterinary regulatory board will investigate the animal shelter operated by A Buddy for Life, under an animal control contract with Cecil County, amidst questions about lack of proper state licensing and inspection. And an Elkton family is mourning the loss of a pet Chihuahua they say was mauled to death—and its owner bitten severely– by a dog placed in their home for “foster” care by the Buddies. The Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners oversees licensing and inspection of veterinary hospitals and animal control facilities, as well as individual veterinarians. But the vet board did not receive an application for, and did not issue, a required animal control facility license to the Buddies for its shelter operation on Hutton Road, according to Laura Downes, the Board’s executive director. Nor does the Buddy’s shelter have a veterinary hospital license that is required for any facility at which vaccines and prescription medications are stored and administered to animals, Downes added. “We will certainly look into it,” Downes said in an interview Monday with Cecil Times. She said that if any medical care is being rendered at the site “that facility needs to [...]

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    The state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is slated to consider this week possible action against A Buddy for Life, which operates animal control under contract with the Cecil County government, for failing to obtain a required state license for nearly a year, state officials said. In addition, the Buddy group has continued to show a surplus of money in its county-paid operations and its most recent reports to the county government fail to document a vicious, fatal attack on a dog and biting of a woman who served as a foster parent for a Buddy-owned dog. The Buddy group, which receives $60,000 a month in taxpayer-supplied funds from the county, finally obtained a veterinary hospital license on 12/26/13. And the Buddies’ latest financial report shows they charged the county for the $215 cost of obtaining the license, despite the fact that the county’s ‘request for proposal’ and contract with the group required them to have all necessary licenses before bidding on or receiving the contract. Laura Downes, executive director of the state vet board, told Cecil Times that the full board will meet this week and is expected to consider, in a closed session, possible action against the Buddy [...]

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    Departing Governor Martin O’Malley, never much of a fan of Cecil County nor a favorite among county voters, has cut a new source of state aid just a year after the county first qualified for it, putting a more than $230,000 hole in the county budget to plug shortfalls in his own state budget. O’Malley pushed through a $205 million package of spending cuts at a meeting of the state Board of Public Works last week as part of an effort to leave office without a gaping deficit in the current Fiscal 2015 budget year. But his successor, incoming Republican Larry Hogan, is facing even more budget cutting in the Fiscal 2016 budget he will have to produce just days after he is sworn into office next week. As part of the O’Malley cutback, the state would freeze current “disparity” grants to lower-income counties to help offset their limited income tax revenues. The state would save more than $7.9 million in the current budget year, according to documents presented to the Board of Public Works, by freezing grants at the previous Fiscal 2014 level. Cecil County was slated to receive more than $530,000 in this budget year from a “disparity” [...]

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    A CECIL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT A high-tech medical marijuana farm could be located in Cecil County under a proposal from a Howard County businessman presented to county officials, including local health and law enforcement leaders. A possible site is owned by Cecil County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5). Carey Millstein, who has operated a pecan nut exporting business, presented his proposal before the County Council, County Executive Tari Moore, Sheriff Scott Adams, and county health officer Stephanie Garrity on Tuesday. The Elkton meeting was closed to the public, under cited provisions of the state open meetings law governing a proposal for a business to locate in the state. However, Millstein spoke in a loud voice that was audible outside the closed doors. In a subsequent interview with Cecil Times, Millstein spoke at length about his plans and thoughts about the need for medical marijuana, his passion on the issue stemming from family members’ medical issues, the state regulatory environment, and his reasons for looking at Cecil County, among other locations, for his proposed operations. Millstein’s plans are still very preliminary—as is the state framework for regulating and overseeing such operations—and he has not selected any particular location in the county [...]

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    A CECIL TIMES Special Report Cecil County Executive Tari Moore cut nearly $1 million from the Fiscal 2016 budget proposed by Sheriff Scott Adams, who is looking to reorganize operations to better address the county’s crime and illegal drug problems. But the budget setback could undermine or delay some of the changes he wants to make, according to Adams. “Obviously, it’s disappointing,” Adams said of the county executive’s budget plan unveiled this week. As a result, some of his plans for re-organizing operations and developing new initiatives to serve the public will be limited or placed on hold for the immediate future. In an interview with Cecil Times, Adams explained that he gave Moore a detailed four-year plan of where he wanted to take his department, provided a blueprint of the staffing needed to accomplish that mission, and emphasized his commitment to finding new ways to address the rampant drug abuse problem in the county. As part of that plan, Adams proposed adding five additional deputies to the patrol force—to replace some of the deputies who were re-deployed to several anti-drug initiatives– and three additional community corrections officers as part of a program to co-ordinate with the county’s Drug Court. [...]

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    A local hot-button issue—mandatory fire sprinklers in newly built single-family homes—is back before the Cecil County Council, but this time the county will be unable to opt-out of sprinkler regulations that the old Board of Commissioners reversed over three years ago. As a result, there could be a rush to obtain building permits for new construction before the projected effective date of 8/18/15 for the new regulations, county officials agreed. That could mean a boost of at least proposed new single-family home construction, after a lackluster, minimal 2014 pace of new single-family home construction in the county. Pat Conway, director of permits and inspections for the county, told the County Council on Tuesday that a new building code must be adopted this year under state regulations and that the new county code must comply with changes made in the statewide code since the county last adopted its own regulations. “It’s state law,” that all newly constructed single family homes must be equipped with fire-suppression sprinkler systems, Conway said. Currently, the county only requires townhouses and multi-family apartments to have sprinklers—after the previous board of County Commissioners reversed a previous board’s decision in 2010 to require sprinklers for single-family homes. It […]

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    Cecil County government has published a “request for proposals” (RFP) seeking animal control services under an 18-month contract, beginning 1/1/16, including provisions to allow the county government to buy a shelter building and assume its operating and maintenance costs. And a Delaware animal shelter that has been embroiled in fights with state and local government over animal control there plans to bid on the Cecil County contract, the group’s executive director told Cecil Times. County Executive Tari Moore and her senior aides have visited at least three county government-owned shelter facilities in Maryland—Harford, Frederick and Queen Anne’s counties, according to records of Moore’s official schedule that were obtained by Cecil Times. In addition, Moore’s schedule shows a meeting on 2/12/2015 with “Mary Thompson re: Rainwood Kennels.” Thompson and her husband, retired county Circuit Court Judge Dexter Thompson, own the Rainwood Kennels in Elkton that are being rented by A Buddy for Life, Inc., the current animal control contractor, for $15,000 a month, with the full rental fee paid out of county funds supplied under the Buddies’ contract with the county. Sources said possible sale of the Rainwood facility to the county was discussed at the meeting, and a figure of […]

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    The Cecil County government and the Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) have signed an agreement mapping possible future business uses of extra land not needed for the new vo-tech school on the more than 90-acre Basell property. But left in the air is who would pay to build office and other buildings and whether the county would sell or lease parcels on the site to private interests. From the moment that the county government first considered buying the Appleton Road property several years ago for use as a vocational-technical school, an added attraction was the large landmass surrounding the former Basell scientific laboratory building north of Elkton. And promoting economic development opportunities on some of the vacant land surrounding the main building was always in the cards. With conversion of the existing building and its many science labs into the county’s new vo-tech school now completed, the first class of 200 students recently began studies there. County Superintendent of Schools D’Ette Devine told the Cecil County Council on Tuesday that the school will more than double the number of vo-tech students, to about 420, in January when new vocational programs will be launched and additional specialized study areas opened. Dr. […]

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    NEWS ANALYSIS The Cecil County Executive’s plan to abandon a waterfront boat ramp in Earleville, the only county recreational facility in the south county, has been quietly disclosed to local citizens via a hand-written yard sale type sign, with a public “informational meeting” scheduled at a tiny meeting room at the Cecilton library in October hosted by “administrative staff” rather than the executive or County Council. The proposal by the administration of County Executive Tari Moore was first disclosed to the County Council a week ago, and this past weekend two small yard-sale type signs were posted at the Stemmer’s Run waterfront park and boat ramp announcing a “public meeting” on Moore’s plan to abandon the facility– for which the county has a free lease from state and federal agencies, with the only county obligation being to maintain and mow the area at a cost of $5,000 a year. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES report on the county’s proposed abandonment of the popular local boat ramp, dog-walking, biking and jogging park here: http://ceciltimes.com/2015/09/cecil-county-exec-wants-to-abandon-earleville-boat-ramp-to-save-5k-fate-of-park-adjacent-to-us-dump-uncertain/ ] Several members of the County Council insisted that the community be advised of the proposal, and during the weekend two tiny hand-crafted signs were posted: one at […]

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    Members of the Cecil County Council, who raised questions during this year’s budget deliberations about a nearly $20 million new library and administrative offices for the county’s public library system in North East, were briefed this week on the project, which could also set up a potential clash with the town over the fate of the old library building. The county library system recently won a major national award for its services and library supporters have been vocal in county budget hearings to endorse the system’s budget proposals. So far, the Council has supported funds for land acquisition and initial planning for the North East facility but several councilors have expressed reservations about the added-on costs of moving administrative offices from Elkton to designated space at the new North East library. “I think we can all agree” the county needs a new library in North East, Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) said at a council worksession attended by library officials on Tuesday. “But the question is how much can we afford.” Hodge noted that the new library was “competing” with other major projects and services, such as road paving, law enforcement and the county schools. “We have to allocate our […]

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    Major crimes in Cecil County declined significantly in 2015, according to new data submitted to state and federal authorities, but the number of murders increased and separate health reports showed drug overdose deaths continued to be a serious problem in the county for most of 2016. The Maryland State Police compiled data from its own operations as well as law enforcement at the county and town levels to produce the annual Uniform Crime Report (UCR) that provides the most complete picture of criminal activity and law enforcement efforts statewide. The report, covering the 2015 calendar year, was submitted to Gov. Hogan’s office in mid-December 2016. Overall, the crime rate in Cecil County fell by 10.7 percent in 2015, in comparison with 2014. But murders numbered 9, in comparison with 4 in 2014. The 2015 figures were also well above a five-year average of 5 murders per year. Motor vehicle theft showed a sharp increase—33.7 percent—with 123 incidents reported in 2015. But most other categories of serious crimes showed modest to significant declines, according to the new report. Aggravated assaults declined by over 31 percent; reported rape cases dropped by 18.4 percent; robberies declined by 14.9 percent; larceny/theft incidents dropped by […]

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    “Alexa, bring 700 jobs to Cecil County, ASAP.”—Cecil County government “Of course. My Pleasure.”—Amazon Echo’s “Alexa” virtual assistant Online retailer Amazon will open a $90 million mega-warehouse, employing up to 700 full-time workers, in the Principio Business Park off Route 40 near Perryville. State loan/grants of over $1.2 million and a Cecil County government contribution of $120,000 drawn from casino revenues will assist the project. The Baltimore Business Journal first identified Amazon as the tenant of the planned 1 million square feet distribution center in its Friday editions. Since all parties to the transaction had signed confidentiality agreements, the transaction had been shrouded in secrecy, even as a resolution was introduced into the Cecil County Council on Tuesday 1/3/17 to endorse a state loan for the project and to commit county aid to it. In documents submitted to the Council, the project was referred to as “Project Iron.” However, CECIL TIMES has since verified the identity of the new warehouse tenant as Amazon with several sources. A public disclosure of Amazon’s project is expected to be made on Tuesday, 1/17/17 when the Council is slated to vote on the resolution at its evening meeting. Members of the County Council were […]

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    A CECIL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT About 96 percent of Cecil County residents are now covered by health insurance, a substantial gain since the federal Affordable Care Act took effect in 2014. But uncertainty over the fate of the federal law, which the Trump administration has vowed to repeal, poses fiscal concerns for the Maryland budget and worries local health care providers such as Union Hospital. The non-partisan Office of Legislative Services recently briefed lawmakers in Annapolis on potential healthcare cost pitfalls facing the state in the current budget year and the upcoming Fiscal 2018 budget currently under review by the General Assembly– even under the existing terms of the Affordable Care Act (ACA.) And in the uncertain climate of a potential repeal of ACA, the state could face insurmountable budget costs if it tried to assume a greater share of health insurance subsidy costs, with the potential difficult choice of deciding who, or what medical conditions, should receive assistance. The political uncertainty also raises concerns over the fate of Maryland’s unique federal “waiver”—the only state in the nation to have an exemption from many federal Medicare and Medicaid regulations—that has put a brake on rising hospital and health care costs […]

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    Cecil County Council members were all aboard the budget bus Tuesday evening (4/25/2017) when they reviewed Fiscal 2018 spending plans for the county’s bus transit, senior citizens’ and other programs, even as the services have grown in size and scope. The Council is looking for ways to save money in the upcoming budget year, in an effort to mitigate proposed increases in the county property tax rate and a rise in the “piggyback” income tax rate. But there didn’t seem to be any inclination to trim anything from the $2.58 million it costs the county to operate the Department of Community Services. The department, headed by David Trolio, had a mini-bus service and seniors’ programs at the core of its portfolio for many years, but on his watch the agency has grown to include animal services, health-related programs, youth assistance, housing aid, and broader transportation planning projects as well as greatly expanded bus services. Trolio said he anticipated bus ridership of almost 100,000 seats filled during the current Fiscal 2017 budget year. The department gets most of its financial support from federal and state aid programs, as well as fees paid by bus riders and users of other services, which […]

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    NEWS ANALYSIS From nose-biting at a polling place to creating a political club with virtually the same name as a longstanding and well-known Republican group so as to confuse voters, never let it be said that Cecil County politics is clean and above-board. Now we can add to the dirtpile the cyberspace hijacking of one candidate’s full name by his opponent, in order to divert voters to his own website and solicit donations. Ed Larsen, a janitorial services business owner from Conowingo, filed to run in the Republican primary for County Council in District 4 against incumbent George Patchell. Patchell, who is the popular head of the Cecil County YMCA and well known as a leader in youth activities, was first elected to the County Council four years ago and has filed for re-election in the June Republican Primary. (There is no Democratic candidate, so the winner of the GOP primary will be unopposed on the November general election ballot.) Larsen, apparently not content to make a straightforward appeal to voters with his own website, “Larsen4Cecil.com,” has registered at least four website domain names that are plays upon George Patchell’s name, according to records on file with the ICANN/ WHOIS […]