February 19, 2010


County considers contract with the SPCA

Organization would be paid $3,500 to resume animal cruelty investigations through March

SPCABob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland County SPCA investigator Don Sooter puts a deceased cat into a bag along Tompkins Street in September 2008. The SPCA would resume animal cruelty investigations for the county through March under a proposed contract.

Staff Reporter

Budget and Finance Committee members Thursday endorsed a one-month contract with the Cortland Community SPCA for animal cruelty investigations.
The full Legislature will vote on the resolution Feb. 25.
The contract would cost the county $3,500 and expire in March. Legislators hope to decide by then how to best continue the service.
The Sheriff’s Department has been handling the investigations since Jan. 1, when the county contract was discontinued.
The department has said it anticipates incurring costs of housing and caring for animals.
Legislators are also concerned that in the future animal complaints will not be investigated if the department is busy with more pressing calls.
In 2009 the county paid the SPCA about $38,000 for the animal cruelty investigation service.
The amount was reduced to approximately $5,800 when the Legislature approved the 2010 budget and agreed to evenly split the $17,500 originally allocated for the Lime Hollow Nature Center between the nature center, the 1890 House Museum and the SPCA. This $5,800 would not have been enough for the SPCA to continue its contract with the county.
The $3,500 would come out of the SPCA’s $5,800 share, if the Legislature approves the contract.
The county can ensure a portion of the $5,800 is earmarked for animal cruelty investigations by paying for the contract this way, said Agriculture Planning and Environment Chair Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville).
The SPCA would have gotten its share of $5,800 anyway but Ross said he would not have supported putting that money into the SPCA’s general budget.
“I want to make sure it goes to cruelty prevention. They have contracts with villages and towns and if the money comes from the county I want it to go for the cruelty cases,” Ross said.
The remaining funds will be left in the budget for the SPCA.
Legislators are still examining other ways of providing the animal cruelty investigation services for the county.
Legislator Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) is a member of the subcommittee that is exploring the issue. Briggs said the Sheriff’s Department would have to deputize anyone who does animal cruelty investigations.
This means the Sheriff’s Department would have to make the individuals Peace Officers so they could make arrests and uphold the state Agriculture and Markets law, which governs most animal cruelty offenses.
But Sheriff Lee Price said he would not deputize anyone because of the liability of doing this. If someone makes a false arrest, the Sheriff’s Department could be held liable.
Legislator Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) sits on the subcommittee with Briggs and said they still have not decided what to recommend.
“The SPCA is ready to do it but there is no money budgeted for it, which is the biggest challenge,” Price said.
Price told fellow legislators on the Budget and Finance Committee that the Legislature should decide what to do by the spring because when the weather gets warmer then calls to investigate abandoned or injured animals will increase.
Briggs said she and Ross will meet and “crunch numbers” to find out the most cost-effective way of providing the service.
Briggs advocates having the SPCA provide the service because it is equipped to take in animals and also because it releases the county of any potential liability.
“If we are performing the function, we have opened ourselves up to liability, whereas if we contract with an independent ... agency they assume the liability,” Briggs said.
SPCA Director Donna Davie has said the agency wants to continue providing the service because it is part of the society’s mission to protect animals, even though it does not profit the agency to contract with the county.
Price said contracting with the SPCA until the end of March “solves the problem for right now.”
The Agriculture/Planning/Environmental Committee will discuss the issue and determine how to proceed at its March meeting.


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