Caroline County supervisors have given an organization that trains service dogs for veterans 90 days to submit a site plan after learning that it had yet to do so more than a year after opening.
Leashes of Valor, which was started by three veterans, applied for a special exception permit in 2018 to open the training facility on a 20-acre property on Sparta Road that is zoned rural preservation. The plans called for a kennel that could eventually house up to 25 rescued dogs to be trained as service dogs and a cottage for housing up to four veterans at a time to train for half of each month with the dogs they will be taking home.
The approval process last year generated controversy when some supervisors and neighbors of the Leashes of Valor property expressed concern with the organization’s practice of holding shooting fundraisers. Supporters of the organization interpreted the concerns as being discriminatory against veterans.
Director of Planning and Community Development Mike Finchum said he and department staff toured the property March 6 and found two violations of the special exception permit. One found that a shed approved last year as a training and meeting room has been occasionally used to house veterans overnight.
The staff also noticed a new 300-square-foot structure on the property that owner Jason Haag said will be used as a kennel. Finchum said that violates the special exception permit because a site plan was not submitted and the correct permit was not obtained.
He noted that Haag recently applied for a building and zoning permit and was granted one for residential use only until a site plan is approved. According to Leashes of Valor President Danique Masingill, the organization has hired an architect to design a site plan, but that could take more than six months to complete.
The board voted to give the owners 90 days to complete site plans for review.
In other business, the board held a public hearing on the proposed tax rate and $52.8 million operating budget for the fiscal year the begins July 1. Seven Caroline school teachers, staff and school board members spoke during the public meeting in support of proposed School Board budget.
Lisa Stevens, a parent and school employee, told the board that the schools have three basic needs: adding one position, providing health insurance and improving compensation. “I want our community and schools to be stronger and safer, a place where people want to raise their children that makes their schools a priority,” she said.
County Administrator Charles Culley has proposed providing nearly $14.2 million in local funds for the schools, a $562,000 increase over the current year. But it leaves the School Board about $640,000 short of its proposed $44.3 million operating budget.
The administrator’s proposed budget also provides $753,500 for the schools’ proposed capital projects, which include replacing five buses, upgrading restrooms at Caroline High School’s football stadium, expanding all school playgrounds, and updating computer systems.
The main driver of the increase in the school budget is a nearly 26 percent jump in the cost of employee health insurance as a result of changes in the plans offered. The additional cost is projected to total about $765,000.
There were no public comments on the real-estate tax rate, which Cullen proposes to keep flat at 83 cents per $100 of assessed value.
A budget work session is April 23 at 6 p.m. in the emergency operations center inside the Caroline Community Center.