Drop The Threats, Negotiate An Agreement
The issue’s been hanging out there for a while: What role should the Otsego County Board of Representatives play in funding the Susquehanna Animal Shelter?
Schoharie County’s contribution is $75,000 a year to its shelter. Delaware County splits $88,000 among two shelters. Until now, Otsego County has contributed nothing.
The county has been allocating $5,000 a year. It is not a donation, but a fee for services, which seems like the better way to go.
At its Nov. 26 public hearing on its 2020 county budget, county representatives were advised the Susquehanna SPCA, using cost-accounting data developed by a volunteer, Cooperstown’s Richard Sternberg, plans to “unilaterally” begin charging what it has determined its true costs are.
In a situation with a lot of moving parts, doing anything “unilaterally” is not the best way forward.
For one thing, everyone seems to agree abused animals have to be taken care of, and that county government should pay for costs incurred.
County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr., whose department out of necessity, drops animals seized in cruelty cases at the Hartwick Seminary shelter, said “the welfare of animals is both our priorities.”
County Board Chairman Dave Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, also buys into the general concept. “The board wants to take care of its responsibilities,” he said in last week’s newspaper.
So the issue isn’t that the county pay for costs incurred. It’s simply how much (and, perhaps, to whom)?
The shelter’s annual operating budget is over $700,000. Last year, with the 103 starving animals seized on that Garrattsville farm and 56 Lhasa Apsos surrendered in Milford, Sternberg estimated the county received some $70,000 worth of services.
(Remember, that’s the year-to-year “operating budget,” separate from the $3 million that’s been raised to build a 21st-century animal shelter on Route 28 at Index. Two different pots of money.)
Averaged out with Sternberg’s guidance, SQSPCA Executive Director Stacie Haynes estimated the county’s annual cost at about $40,000 a year, some 5 percent of its total expenses. That includes caring for dogs dropped off by the sheriff’s department, or when a shelter team responds to a call through the county’s 911 system.
When County Treasurer Allen Ruffles returns in January from his National Guard deployment in Djibouti, he should review those figures and come to a common understanding about the value of the services provided.
Under the state Ag & Markets Law, law enforcement – locally, mostly the sheriff’s department – is required to respond to animal-abuse complaints. When deputies remove an animal, they have to take it someplace.
The Susquehanna Animal Shelter has been the preferred option, but it doesn’t have to be.
As Bliss explains it, if the county wanted to contract for services, it would be required to go out to bid, and other shelters – Oneonta’s Superheroes in Ripped Jeans, for instance – could bid, as could individual veterinary practices. Or the county could set up its own pound.
Clearly, acting “unilaterally” may have unintended consequences all around.
The Susquehanna Animal Shelter has a lot going for it.
Under Haynes, it’s been a first-rate operation, evident most recently in bringing the heart-rending case of Zoe, the
German shepherd discovered chained last month in the Town of Exeter with a chewed-off leg and large tumor in her shoulder. Zoe was seized, treated and is now in a new home in the Butternuts Valley.
Successes like this have raised the shelter’s profile, and pet owners are aware of and likely to use its services.
People – that includes members of the county board – want to back a winner, to support excellence, so Susquehanna SPCA, in its current incarnation, is in a position of strength.
Still, it’s determine to do what it believes in. As Haynes put it in last week’s paper, “We have a moral obligation to do what we do. We’re never going to stop doing what we’re doing.”
Admirable, but it weakens the shelter’s bargaining position. It takes the county board off the hook: It can be assured, regardless, our Zoes will be taken care of regardless.
So it only makes sense to cool off the rhetoric. Get the numbers. In an $11 million local tax levy in a $120 million budget, $40,000 is smidgeon. It’s there somewhere. Still, the county board shouldn’t just give away money because somebody asks for it. Fee for service is the way to go.
Demanding will get us nowhere. Let level-headed representatives on both sides sit down, figure out what’s fair and mutually agreeable.