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    Friday, May 24, 2024

    More than 1,200 urge Montville Town Council to build new animal control facility

    Montville ― As the crowd of residents who want the town to build a $2.2 million animal control facility exited the Town Council chambers Monday night, one of them sat dejectedly in the front row after councilors declined to immediately approve the project.

    For the past two weekends, Ann Gaulin had stood outside the Stop & Shop on Route 32 asking people to sign a petition to build a new animal control facility. She and others collected 1,193 signatures, which were presented to the council in Monday.

    Twenty-five local businesses including Herb’s Country Deli, Breakfast at Diana’s and All Bright Canines had the petition in their stores. As of Tuesday, the number of signatures was 1,207, with 1,089 coming from Montville residents and 118 from those in Salem, which shares the shelter, Gaulin said.

    Becky Maurice, owner of All Bright Canines, a dog training, grooming and day care business, presented the signatures to the council, saying they were “a sampling of what our townspeople want.”

    She and Gaulin handed out purple ribbons and buttons that said “Build our Shelter! Montville, CT” to those who attended the meeting. She said she hoped the signatures would demonstrate to the council and Mayor Leonard Bunnell that residents want a new shelter.

    Residents say they want a new shelter to replace the current, dilapidated building at 225 Maple Ave., which over the past several years has been cited for numerous violations of state animal shelter guidelines.

    Other options that have been recently discussed have included joining New London’s facility, or purchasing animal control service from the Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, which provides animal control to 20 towns.

    Residents who signed the petition don’t like those options.

    “We are asking that this is the last winter the animals will have to be huddled under a heat lamp. Let that be your legacy,” Maurice urged the council.

    Bunnell, who agreed there is a need to fix the problem, updated the council and residents on the progress he’s made, including meeting with Bozrah to discuss including that community in a new Montville facility, arranging a letter from Salem, Bozrah, Montville and the Mohegan tribe that attempts to secure a state Community Investment Fund grant for the project, and approving a $5,000 analysis of the current facility that will document why it has consistently failed state inspections.

    The council voted 6-1 Monday to delay action on the shelter until June 10, at which time it expects to know if it has been successful in obtaining one of the state grants, which are awarded in May.

    The only “no” vote came from councilor Robert Yuchniuk, who earlier had made a motion to immediately start a project using $2.2 million from the town’s reserve fund balance. It is unclear exactly how much money is in the fund, as the last estimate of $10 million is from June 2022. The town is expected to receive an updated 2023 figure from its auditors, who have sought several extensions, later this month.

    It is recommended the town retain an amount that equals 12 to 16 percent of its annual expenditures in the reserve fund to maintain its bond rating. That rating determines the interest the town pays when borrowing money for projects.

    The crowd erupted in applause after Yuchniuk’s motion. The celebration did not last long, though, as Councilor Kevin Lathrop, who had initially seconded Yuchniuk’s motion to immediately start the project, withdrew it after a discussion about taking the money from the reserve account.

    The councilors, minus Yuchniuk, agreed it is their job to consider all taxpayers, not just the petitioners and the more than 30 residents at Monday’s meeting. Lathrop was won over, and then made the motion to table the issue until June.

    “I’m not trying to push it off,” Lathrop explained. “I’m just trying to make sure it’s good for the taxpayers.”

    But for Gaulin and other project supporters, the move felt like defeat. Gaulin said she was unsure she and other petition organizers could manage greater support at the next council meeting.

    “What can we do? Get 2,000 signatures?,” she asked rhetorically.

    “We do want the animal control facility,” added council Chairman Tim May, “We just need to know how we’re going to pay for it.”

    Residents said they hoped to see the town to come with a backup plan in the event it does not get the state grant, which May said has already been denied a few times.

    Bunnell said Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz recently toured the facility. He and the council urged the petitioners to refocus their energy on legislators to help secure money from that grant. Gaulin said residents have already been writing letters to them.

    If the town is denied the grant again, the council could agree to bond the $2.2 million and send the issue to a referendum vote, as it successfully did with the $15.5 million project to add air conditioning to five of the town’s six school buildings last December. The deadline to place place the question on the November election ballot is Sept. 4.

    d.drainville@theday.com

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