Towns take first steps on regional animal shelter in New London

New London — The effort to create a regional animal shelter in southeastern Connecticut cleared a hurdle this week, as New London joined three area towns committed to exploring the potential costs and benefits of a shared facility.

New London Mayor Michael Passero announced Tuesday that the city was the latest municipality to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) along with Waterford, East Lyme and Montville, the first step toward expanding the city's Animal Control Facility at Bates Woods Park into a joint shelter.

Officials say a regional shelter could help each municipality save cash while enhancing animal control services in the area.

"The MOU gets us started so we can figure out what the costs are before entering an interlocal agreement," Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward said. "We'll figure out who's going to pay what. We want to just get it done, but we don't want to do it without doing it correctly."

The next step for the municipalities — an interlocal agreement — will address capital expenses, expanded construction at the Bates Woods facility, ongoing upkeep and personnel.

The towns considered creating a regional shelter years ago at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Facility in Uncasville, but officials say the project hit funding snags and other challenges with state agencies.

Waterford and East Lyme have long shared a facility at 41 Avery Lane in Waterford, but heating and water problems have continued to plague the building.

New London earlier this year agreed to house animals from Waterford-East Lyme's deteriorating facility, with town officials saying renovations would prove too costly without further regionalization.

Steward said Waterford-East Lyme's animals could be housed in New London for about a year.

Mark Nickerson, East Lyme's first selectman, recently said he and Steward "have been very committed to finding a solution," arguing the current shelter shared with Waterford is substandard for animals and officers.

Waterford has an Animal Control Facility Fund with a balance of about $212,000 as of the end of fiscal year 2017. Steward has said the money residents and volunteers donated over the years in support of the shelter was earmarked for improvements for a new facility or the expanded shelter in the works.

Montville Mayor Ron McDaniel described his town's shelter as an older facility that "requires constant maintenance." Previous estimates to build a new Montville facility meeting updated standards approached $800,000, he said.

"We look at this as an opportunity to work with our neighbors on a solution that meets all of our needs," McDaniel said. An expanded facility at Bates Woods would "keep us all within the code and provide a nice place for our animals without each town" paying the hefty price tag of new buildings or extensive renovations, he said.

Town and city leaders can start seeking approvals and funding — including research into state regionalization grants — but no financial commitments are required until the interlocal agreement is approved, according to the MOU.

b.kail@theday.com

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