Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

December 8, 2013

Niagara Falls City Council to consider hike to SPCA contract

By Justin Sondel justin.sondel@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The SPCA of Niagara and the city of Niagara Falls are set to renew their contract for next year, though it will cost the city more money than in years past.

Mayor Paul Dyster has included a resolution on the agenda for Monday’s city council meeting that would allow him to sign a one year contract with the nonprofit that would pay $18,000 more than last year’s contract, bringing the total to $198,000 for the services it provides to the city.

City officials have been meeting with representatives from the SPCA for more than a year to discuss changes in the relationship between the shelter and the city, some of which are outlined in a letter addressed to City Administrator Donna Owens from Amy Lewis, the shelter’s executive director.

Lewis argues that the shelter deserves more money from the city because it spends about $107,000 more caring for animals that come from the city than the city gives to the shelter each year, a cost that is driven largely by the number of calls on stray dogs originating in the city.

The SPCA billed the city $83,520 for services in 2012. In July, the city council approved a six-month contract that raised the city’s monthly payments from $6,960 to $15,000.

In addition, Lewis said the SPCA plans to phase out providing dog control for the city over the next few years in an effort to control costs at the financially struggling shelter and returning it to its core mission of preventing cruelty, offering a place for owners to take animals they can no longer care for and offering educational programming on pet ownership, according to the letter.

“Getting back to our core mission means phasing dog control out of our operations and sustaining the mission of the shelter through sources of funding not related to municipal dog control contracts,” Lewis said.

Dyster said it has become clear the SPCA can no longer provide dog control services to the city and his administration has started looking at options for a shelter. They are trying to decide whether it will be more cost effective to build new or renovate an empty building.

“We’re trying to gear up to be able to take over that function in one way, shape or form,” the mayor said.

The city may contract out for the service, but would still need to provide a facility for the operators.

“No such organization is going to be so profitable that it’s going to be able to make the debt payments on a capital project to get it started,” Dyster added.

Even after the city takes over the dog control responsibilities it will continue to rely on the SPCA to provide other services — like pet owner education — to city residents.

“There’s parts of their core mission that we desperately need,” Dyster said.

In particular, the mayor said educating pet owners and spaying and neutering city animals will help to keep animal control costs down.

“We’re increasingly going to have to go out there and do the enforcement necessary to make certain that there are not irresponsible things being done by people who are then putting the bills onto everybody else,” Dyster said.

The council will also consider;

• A measure that would implement a debt management policy to provide official guidelines for borrowing and repayment for the city.

• Approval of the sale of 617 Walnut Ave. to Housing Visions Inc., a Syracuse not-for-profit that is planning a housing project downtown. The council has already approved the sale of several other properties for the project.

• A measure from the human resources department requesting $33,437 in funding for the second phase of a document management program that will digitize the department’s forms.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257