County Executive Habern W. Freeman is proposing that the county build a $500,000 animal shelter for the Harford County Humane Society to house the thousands of stray, abused and unwanted animals it cares for each year.
The private, non-profit society currently operates out of a renovated house with two kennels and a barn on 25 acres of land in Fallston.
A bill to appropriate the money was introduced last week. Freeman proposes using pay-as-you-go money -- that is, money available in the budget -- to pay for the building. The County Council has delayed taking action on the bill until Oct. 16, saying it wants more detailed information on the project.
Patty Billings, director of the Harford County Humane Society, said the new shelter is needed because the society's existing shelter can't handle the growing need.
Animals are placed at the Humane Society's shelter because they are found abused or as strays by the county's animal control wardens, or by pet owners who can no longer keep their pets.
"About 6,000 animals a year come through our doors, and out of that we probably end up euthanizing about 70 percent because of the condition they're in or because of our lack of space," said Billings. "We're having to euthanize a lot of nice animals that we could have put up for adoption.
It can be very depressing."
Georgia Hodsdon, county director of administration, said Freeman's proposal calls for the county to lease at least part of the Fallston site owned by the society to build the new animal shelter.
In turn, the Humane Society would lease the building from the county, using the existing building for overflow, she said. It has not been determined how much the lease would cost.
Freeman would move Animal Control offices from Bel Air's Main Street to the Fallston site.
Council members aren't committed to the project at this point.
"I'm certainly an animal lover, but to appropriate $500,000 for a project when we're not certain what the project is going to be, I'm hesitant," said Frederick J. Hatem, D-District F.
Other council members said they want architectural drawings and other details before making a decision.
Hodsdon said she is composing a letter to council members to answer their questions.
"The council doesn't want to buy a pig in a poke, and I understand that," said Hodsdon. "But in the eight years I've worked here the society's management has never painted a picture of dire need, but they are.
The Humane Society is operating this year on a $148,00 budget. That money comes from interest from a trust fund set up by the society's founder Elsa Voss, a $73,772 grant from the county, and money from donations and fund-raisers.