Concerns over the county’s operating budget for 2012 continue to be raised even after the formal adoption of the figures Feb. 8. In particular, at least two people have spoken out on the seemingly high amount set aside for animal control.
Per the budget adopted by Commissioner Clarence Brown, animal control is to receive $770,700 for the 2012 year. That amount is broken down into various areas, including operations such as the department’s telephone usage, monthly operating bills for electricity, water/sewage and natural gas as well as upkeep and maintenance on vehicles and the freezer to store euthanized animals as well as the incinerator used to dispose of the bodies. Combined, water/sewage, electricity and natural gas amounts are less than $40,000.
“We’ve got two huge pieces of equipment that sit on our property that have to be maintained,” Debbie Elrod, animal control director, said. “We have to know they are working 24/7. One is the big freezer and the other is the incinerator, and when things break, it costs money to fix them.
“That’s how we dispose of our dead animals. They are euthanized and they are incinerated, and we don’t just turn on the big incinerator and put two or three animals in it. If we’ve got something that passes away that we’ve picked up or the vets had to put down, that’s what the freezer is for. We store them there until we get a big enough load to go into the incinerator, so that when we do turn it on we are operating it cost effectively.”
Other parts of the budget are designated for salaries for the full- and part-time employees, along with their insurance and retirement contributions. For salaries, $370,000 is set aside to be distributed among 10 employees. No money is designated in the department budget for overtime, sick leave, vacation or holiday pay, even though an employee must be on site to care for the animals every day of the year.
“Each employee here is doing 96 hours of furlough per year,” Elrod said.
Vehicle maintenance also is considered in the budget with $5,000 set aside for parts and with rising gasoline prices, $25,000 is designated for vehicle fuel to allow employees the ability to travel and retrieve animals around the county.
“We have four full-time road officers that are constantly riding the roads,” Elrod said, noting the importance of vehicle maintenance while animal control employees are on call 24/7.
Animal control also serves to care for animals, causing $22,000 of the budget to be contributed to veterinarian fees.
“It costs money to fight disease and you’ve got vet bills that are encountered,” Elrod said. “If we pick one up that’s injured, we’ve got to go to the vet with it and let the vet make the call to say is it stable enough that we can secure it at your facility for 24 hours or does it need to be euthanized.
“We’re either going to end up paying to have something euthanized because it’s injured severely and there’s no owner or, a lot of cases, we try to secure that animal for 24 to 48 hours, or we go ahead and start giving them medical attention and try to help it in the event an owner does show up. If [an owner] doesn’t [appear,] I may have a $200 to $300 vet bill that I’m going to eat. At the same time, I’m not going to let that animal lay here and suffer either.”
Legal fees may also be incurred if an animal is picked up as part of a cruelty or neglect case as well. There is $10,000 in the department’s budget for legal representation for court matters.
“We never know when we’re going to come up on a situation where we find a hoarding situation or we run up on an animal neglect situation,” Elrod said. “When that happens, and we have a known owner, the first thing I have to do is get a vet to look at the [animals] and it may end up in court, and if it does, there’s no guarantee that person is going to be made to make restitution for anything. You’ve got to be represented in court for a citation.”
Money must be on hand for food, cat litter and supplies for cleaning kennels to prevent disease. While the department depends heavily on donations for food and supplies, those donations are not always guaranteed and there must be funds in the budget for those items.
While the budget may at first seem excessive for the department, animal control receives a high volume of calls. In January of this year, 117 cats and 279 dogs were picked up by animal control employees. Only 33 of those pets were reclaimed and 207 were euthanized. The number of animals received averages out to a little over a dozen per day for the month, and that, Elrod says, is a slow time period.
“We haven’t hit the summer months when we run wide open,” Elrod said. “Generally, it’s not unusual for us to respond to 100 calls a day and that could be anything from dogs and cats or it could be livestock or snakes.”