Frustration on both sides of the table will likely leave the City of Brazil without an animal control contract come Jan. 1.
Discussion of the 2005 Animal Control Contract between the Clay County Humane Society and Brazil continued at the final 2004 meeting of the Brazil City Council, and both city and Humane Society officials were audibly disappointed when the motion of Councilwoman Pat Heffner to approve the contract died on the floor without a second.
The animal control contract has become a familiar discussion topic for the Council in the past several weeks. At the Dec. 14 meeting, Humane Society Board of Directors President Charlie Brown approached the Council to request additional deliberation be-fore members took action on the document, which includes the city's proposed cut in animal control funding. The Council and Humane Society representatives met in a public administrative session Dec. 21, where Brown informed the Council the minimum figure for shelter operating expenses would be $18,000 -- $3,000 more than the figure Clerk Treasurer Tracy Webster estimated the city could provide. The original proposed cut was $11,000, 50 percent of the funding traditionally designated for the non-for-profit organization that serves the entire county.
Mayor Tom Arthur highlighted some key features and changes to the contract, including the shelter being open to police during normal operating hours and on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and during emergency situations; pet owners can retrieve their pets within a three-day period contingent on proof of payment of impoundment, violations and other fees, as well as compliance with statutory or ordinance requirements. The first-time civil penalty for impoundment will be $25, and each subsequent impoundment will be $50. Meanwhile, the contract also stipulates the city will pay the animal shelter $15,000 per year in four disbursements of $3,750 in March, June, September and December.
In 1994, the funding was $18,604, and by 1996, it was increased to $22,000, Humane Society Director Rick Moore said. "We weren't getting that ($15,000) 10 years ago to operate the shelter."
But Mayor Arthur expressed skepticism, noting it was difficult for him to believe Moore was able to find 10 years of budget figures without being able to specify the number of pet pickups from the city in the past year with accuracy. The group also questioned whether pet owners were being charged for pet retrieval, and Moore said those fees are being applied at this time.
"I can't be held accountable for what happened in the past. I'm looking toward the future," he said.
In spite of disagreements regarding budget figures, the Council also addressed the issue of the symbiotic relationship between the city and the animal shelter. Moore said no information regarding funding was yet available at the county level.
"I'm probably not going to be a popular person up here, but we've got to do something," Councilman Marty Beasley said. "I'm not sending 10 police officers to pick up animals in $26,000-cars."
"We need you as much as you need us," Moore agreed, noting that eight puppies had been received that day. "We're the Humane Society. That's what we're there for."
During the administrative session, Arthur explained that with $22,000 in city animal control funding, each Brazil resident pays $2.75 per year, plus the additional $1 paid by Clay County residents living in other towns. While not the only municipality utilizing animal shelter services, Brazil is the only city with a Humane Society contract.
"We hear this song and dance every time there's a manager change," he said, referring to the high director turnover at the animal shelter in the past year. "I'm not holding you accountable. I'm holding the Board of Directors accountable."
Streamlining the animal shelter budget has eliminated a kennel manager position, but cutting medicinal supplies and proper housing is not an option, Moore explained. Employees are taking measures to move as many animals as possible, but more animals are received during winter months. Although the bulk of calls come from Brazil, other towns in Clay County do utilize the shelter's services, and the Humane Society director speculated it is too late in the year for those towns to earmark animal control funds.
"Are you asking these questions in Staunton and Clay City? We're still in Clay County. We're not a hole in the middle of Clay County," Arthur said.
But Moore responded with queries regarding why shelter officials had not been notified of the significant fiscal cut in June, the month of the original request. This late in the year, there isn't time for fundraising events or alternate sources of revenue.
"Believe me, I'm not going to let any animal that comes into the shelter suffer," he said. "If we'd known there was going to be such a drastic cut in the budget, we would've planned better. Now that it's the end of the year, how do we plan?"
Moore said he could not accept less than $18,000 without consulting the Board of Directors, in spite of Webster's idea to compromise with an additional $1,500. Arthur questioned the notion that the Humane Society would refuse to sign a contract rather than accept a figure lower than the negotiated figure of $18,000.
"I'd like to get it ironed out," Councilman Bill Lovett said, stressing the group needed to see what solution it could reach as a Council. "We've been cut pretty hard all over too. But dogs (and cats) are a big problem."
Councilman James Sheese said that with the gain of $8,000-$9,000 per city em-ployee opting to take $1,000 over city health insurance, the Council should be able to reach some type of compromise. However, Arthur said it wasn't yet known if more than two employees would take advantage of the cash incentive.
Noting that the issue has been "workshopped to death," City Attorney Joe Trout said that aside from the dollar amount, the amended contract seems to be acceptable to both parties. Meanwhile, Webster and Sheese agreed to meet with two Humane Society representatives to discuss a possible compromise and form a recommendation to the Council for action at a future meeting.