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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County Manager Scott to Humane Society, "We need to help you with animal control" 

COLUMBIA COUNTY/ LAKE CITY, FL – Yesterday morning at 11 am Commissioner Bucky Nash's hand-picked Animal Control/Humane Society committee met. The task: come up with the amount of emergency funding necessary to keep the Lake City Humane Society in the animal control business for Columbia County, minus Lake City. The city of Lake City negotiates separately with the Humane Society for Animal Control. Historic poor relations and an almost total inability for the City and the County to get along and develop any shared services agreements has kept the Humane Society in separate City-County budget negotiations for decades.

County Manager Ben Scott got straight to the point. The County's hard line has softened, "We looked at the annual audit. We're saying we need to help you with animal control."

Mr. Scott said that with the financial information he received from the Humane Society he could not determine how much was being spent for animal control and how much was being spent on the Humane Society side of the equation.

Mr. Scott asked to see a breakout of the employees and how their pay was being accounted for. He asked, "What were their titles? What were they doing?"

He continued, "Why are we going from $510,000 for both organizations (animal control and Humane Society combined) to $500,000 for just animal control? I am looking for what is causing animal control to cost as much as both organizations cost before?"

"Without having more detailed information, I can't go to the Board [the County 5] and say, 'I recommend you give more money.'"

Humane Society/Animal Control Executive Director Laura Page said, "Typically for non-profits, the majority of labor is volunteers. The payroll is almost 100% animal services."

Ms. Page explained that almost anything that had to do with animal control required a "license or certification." She said, "'That's going to be anywhere you go."

Mr. Scott followed up, "If I could analyze that, I'd be glad to. But I can't."

The Data

Todd Sampson, Humane Society president said, "If we provide you with the raw data, could you split it? You always had a problem getting split data. There's a reason for that."

Mr. Sampson explained that in the past, "They didn't track split data. It's all in one lump; they never cash-flowed it... We have this data in the raw. We have the receipts. The problem is having someone to split it. We don't' have someone who can do that. If you can do that here, we could bring the raw data."

He continued, "One of the reasons we found out about the shortfall in animal control is because I tasked Laura with separating the costs to see what our real cost is. When we split out the numbers, that's when we realized that the overwhelming majority of the cost is on the County and the contract with the County [animal control]."

Mr. Sampson explained that in March of 2016, Animal Control had 399 calls in the County. "We can now show you that. Previously, we couldn't, which is why the numbers weren't being provided to Dale [former County Manager, Dale Williams]."

County Manager Scott: "I can do the analysis."

Mr. Scott, "If you can give me your QuickBooks files, I can do the analysis from that."

Mr. Sampson joked, "We may have a new accountant."

Your reporter asked, "My understanding is that at the May 5 meeting you are to come back to the Board with a recommendation for emergency funding?"

Mr. Scott answered that he can do that if he gets the information and goes through it.

It was reported to the Observer that Mr. Scott picked up a thumb drive of QuickBooks information from the Humane Society yesterday afternoon.

On Thursday May 5, at 5:30 pm, the County 5 meet. The community may discover Mr. Scott's recommendation regarding emergency funding for animal control and a possible extension of their contract for animal control services.

Epilogue

The Humane Society and Columbia County, not including Lake City, are looking to enter into a contract (in reality, a private-public partnership) for animal control services. The Humane Society has stated that many of its workers are at minimum wage ($8.05), which is poverty level wages and receive no benefits.

Presently, a barely livable wage is $11.66 per hour.

The Humane Society advocates for humane treatment of the animals.

It is not clear if either they, or the County, will advocate for the human treatment of the workers, i.e., for a barely livable wage.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On May 1, 2016, MB of Columbia County wrote:

As a tax paying resident of Columbia County, as well as animal advocate, I think it wise and prudent to cut the cords that bind Animal Control and the Humane Society. The Humane Society should be run as the rescue it is meant to be, with its own director and board, accountable as all rescues are to their mission of rescuing, vetting, and placing animals in appropriate homes. Animal Control should be a separate entity, funded by city and county to "control" unwanted pets. It should be up to an appointed board or the commissioners themselves to agree on what that means and what services the citizens are willing to fund.

For too long the Humane Society has been held hostage to the guidelines imposed on them by animal control. Shuffling animals around, sending them hours away to cheap adoption events helps no kill numbers and gets grant money, but is not always a wise decision if you truly care for the animals; wanting them to have families who will give them the love, care, and training they deserve. Not all animals are adoptable. It should be up to the Humane Society, as its own 501 c3 rescue, to choose intakes from animal control as well as owner surrenders, setting their own guidelines and receiving their own financial security. It is possible in that way, for a Humane Society to be a very low kill rescue.

Common sense will dictate that animal control can never be a no kill shelter. Sure, numbers can be juggled, animals can be shipped out, and a few can be sent to forever foster homes. Rescue can be pursued to help with population, but it comes down to so many irresponsible pet owners not spay/neutering pets, dumping them, and not keeping them securely confined on their properties. Education is always needed, though some owners do not want to be educated and will always be bad pet owners.

There are no easy answers with this no kill movement that is popular. BUT, a start would be to let the Humane Society go its way, and decide what the vision should be for Animal Control/ Services. Having the two together has always been like a very dysfunctional family.

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On April 30, 2016, Laura Page, Exec. Dir. of the LC Humane Society wrote:

There seems to be some confusion about the Lake City Humane Society from the Observer reader who commented below.

Columbia County has received our audited financial statements every year the County has contracted animal services from the Humane Society. The County also has monthly financial statements for 2015.

There is a long-misunderstood belief that there are two separate agencies occupying our property. That misconception has been held for a very long time by nearly everyone in this county.
 
We are a single agency contracted to provide a service and no different than any other company contracted to perform a service. The County provides the specifications, the scope of work, solicits bids, and selects a provider of services. A contract is executed and the work is performed. Our current contract with the County was neither well-researched nor sufficient for what we do. We have acknowledged repeatedly that in the past things could and should have been done better. We have a new staff and are doing everything in our power to right the previous wrongs. We provide more documentation and information than companies doing multi-million dollar projects with the County.
 
I wish that any two employees of our agency were receiving “over $100k” in salary. My salary is in line with what a Volunteer Coordinator’s would be in other markets. Our Director of Operations earns less than a Lead Kennel Tech would make elsewhere.
 
Unfortunately, no employee receives a single benefit beyond paid holidays and PTO earned after six months of employment. Our employees are not in it for the money.
 
I am not sure what “ultimatum” the following writer is referencing when he wrote, "The county should never be given an ultimatum." We are not bound to perform animal services after September 30 when our contract expires. Columbia County is free to explore other options including bidding out the work or self-management.
 
The Lake City Humane Society adheres to the Association of Shelter Veterinarians' Guidelines of Standards of Care in Animal Shelters and subscribes to the ASPCA's five freedoms.  We are certain that most of the citizens and voters of this county feel the same way.

Laura J. Page
Executive Director
Lake City Humane Society, Inc.
Phone: 386-752-1178

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On April 29, 2016, a reader wrote:

In reading the article you wrote I had a few comments. I don’t think that the county is asking for anything that is unreasonable. They want to know where their money is going,  or I should say our money. The Animal Shelter/Humane Society has been working without a budget for in excess of 5 years. Ask their Board. It is un acceptable for an organization not to be held to simple standards when they are using tax dollars from the county and the city to fund their  organization. When the County or city ask questions about how money is being spent, I say Bravo. My only concern is why it took so long to ask?

My second point would be that these two organizations should be separate entities.  The mixing of funds from one organization to another is almost impossible to track.  Everybody knows it but no one wants to cut the organizations umbilical cord from the county’s purse.

The Humane Society should not be funded by our  county. They, like all of the others I contacted operate on donations and grants that their Executive Director and Board of Director’s raise.   It’s not an easy task but most 501C3’s are charged with the same task. I say make a budget for Animal Control and that is where the county’s  dollars should be going.

Lastly when two employee’s of a 501C-3’s Salary’s are over 100k of a budget that is still yet to be seen. I would have to see and compare other businesses in Lake City and compare those salaries as well. I’m just saying the County has every right to ask hard questions about emergency funds that any organization might ask for.  I also believe the county  should never be given an ultimatum. It speaks volumes  to an organizations ethic’s.  

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On April 29, 2016, Roy Armstrong of Columbia County wrote:

When is the County going to get it?  Stop pussy-footing around and make a decision!  Sounds to me that Mr. Scott is setting the scene for the County Commissioners to "kick the can down the road" once again and delay the emergency funding decision. ("Without having more detailed information, I can't go to the Board and say, 'I recommend you give more money.'").  Then Mr. Scott asked,  "Why are we going from $510,000 for both organizations (animal control and Humane Society combined) to $500,000 for just animal control? I am looking for what is causing animal control to cost as much as both organizations cost before?"  Duh.... could it be inflation, growth in animal population, increased cost for humane treatment of the shelter animals?   The County was getting one helluva deal, and should not act surprised when they are now asked to pay their fair share. Lake City....better pay attention, you are just as guilty.

I agree that somehow Lake City Humane Society needs to maintain separate accounting for the services they are managing for the County and City (Animal Control/Shelter) to ensure they are being funded fully. Our donations to the Lake City Humane Society are given to support the animals and efforts of the Society. Protecting its citizens by providing animal control services is the responsibility of the City and County; they are mandated to do so. Using publicly DONATED assets to manage and operate these Municipal services is not what we pay TAXES for.

I am sure there are County Commissioners who believe the Animal Control services can be provided at a much lower cost, as in the past. It didn't take much money to have boxes and cages staged around the County where animals could be dropped, collected, held for 4 days, then disappear into the landfill.

Yep, that is something the "Gateway to Florida" can really be proud of! 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

 
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