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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    End the delays and replace Montville animal shelter

    The deplorable condition of the animal control shelter in Montville is a disgrace. A new facility should be built as soon as possible.

    The town knows the current shelter is unacceptable. For several years it has failed state Department of Agricultural inspections. Cats and dogs are forced to live near each other in crowded conditions. The outdated, outmoded nearly 60-year-old building stinks, literally, from a pungent combination of chemicals and wet fur. This is unsurprising given that the shelter has no ventilation system.

    It is unhealthy for the animals and for the officers who must work there.

    Residents recognize this. They have crowded into Town Council meetings to demand that the facility be closed and that a new animal shelter be built. They submitted a petition to the council with 1,200 signatures demanding action.

    Given the public outcry and the dire need, it was disappointing Monday to see the council decide, once more, to delay, this time voting 6-1 to table the matter until June.

    The council has taken some action, which only makes it more infuriating that it won’t finish the job. In January 2022, the council appropriated $800,000 of American Rescue Act Plan funds for architectural and design work for a new shelter. That work, by Silver Petrucelli + Associates, cost $125,000. Put out to bid, builders submitted proposals ranging from $2.13 million to $3.37 million to build a new shelter.

    The $675,000 left from rescue plan funds can be used toward construction costs, meaning roughly $1.5 million is necessary to complete the job.

    Many council members and Mayor Leonard Bunnell want to avoid dipping into town coffers at all. They are seeking a state Community Investment Fund grant to cover the cost. While that approach has its merits, it does not justify the delays. Montville needs a new shelter whether it lands a state grant or not. So why wait?

    The better approach is to set in motion the process of borrowing the needed money. Given the groundswell of support for a shelter, voters are highly likely to give their approval if asked at referendum. If the town gains the necessary grant, the council can withdraw the bond issue question. If Montville misses out in the current grant competition, and instead borrows the funding, it can still continue seeking future grants to repay the loan, sparing local taxpayers.

    On Monday, Councilor Robert Yuchniuk offered a quicker solution to get the project underway. He proposed tapping the town’s reserve fund balance to pay for it. That’s a tempting approach, but the council was right to reject it. Using the balance fund for anything but emergency needs would be a bad precedent to set.

    To his credit, Mayor Bunnell has explored expanding regional use of the new animal shelter when it is built. Salem uses the existing shelter and shares operating costs. Bunnell has met with Bozrah officials to gauge their interest in utilizing the facility as well. Such regional cooperation makes sense.

    By acting as quickly as possible, the council can avoid a showdown with the state. When it came to deficient animal shelters, the state has long been a toothless watchdog. But that is changing. As a result of recent legislative action, the Department of Agriculture can now ask the Office of Attorney General to seek an injunction to force a town to correct its animal control shelter violations.

    Of course, the town already knows what needs correcting. The council should act to do so, as quickly as possible.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.