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City, SPCA Still at Odds Over New Contract

By Tony Farina

David Urban is fighting for reasonable compensation for the SPCA.

The contract dispute between the Niagara SPCA and the City of Niagara Falls was far from settled as of press time despite the efforts of State Supreme Court Justice Richard Kloch last week to broker at least a six-month window to allow for the two sides to reach agreement on a new deal.

The SPCA has threatened to discontinue animal control services to the city because of the huge losses it says it is incurring under the current contract that expired at the end of 2011. The city went to court last week and was granted a temporary restraining order that expires Wednesday night to block the SPCA from following through with its threat.

In his ruling, Judge Kloch said he expected the City Council to approve a six-month contract extension at $15,000 a month, well above the current rate the city pays of $83,520 per year, an amount the SPCA said was causing the shelter to lose $150,000 a year. The SPCA has been seeking a new contract of $230,000 per year to maintain services to the city as it continues the no-kill policy established in the wake of the disclosures of widespread animal abuse and mass killings of healthy dogs and cats at the shelter.

But as of press time, City Controller Maria Brown and SPCA Treasurer David Urban have not discussed details of the temporary agreement and it’s not clear whether anything will be ready to present to the council on Wednesday night, the last meeting before the summer recess.

Brown says as the city’s fiscal watchdog, she needs numbers from the SPCA to back up their claims of increased costs “and I would not be doing my job in protecting the taxpayers,” she said, if she did not insist the city be provided with that information before agreeing to any new deal, temporary or not.

Urban contacted Brown by email late Monday afternoon after business hours, to arrange to meet with the controller at 6 a.m. this morning (July 23) for one hour to discuss the contract issue.

“Can you imagine,” said Brown, of the response from Urban about meeting at such an hour to discuss such an important matter.

“I’m as big a no-kill supporter as anybody,” said Brown, “but I also have a responsibility [to taxpayers] and I am trying to obtain that critical information, even if it means I have to meet with him at 6 a. m.” But she added Urban booked only one hour for the session, and it remains to be seen if they can work through the matter in that limited amount of time.

Kloch’s ruling last week was seen as an effort on his part to broker a long-term deal that works for both sides, and he said the city could use casino funds to pay the SPCA, considering such services critical to economic development. Kloch said he will also retain jurisdiction of the matter during the six-month negotiating period. However the questions at this point is whether or not the council will have something to act on Wednesday night or whether the two sides will be right back where they started before last week’s court session.

Carol Tutzauer, president of Buffalo Humane, said the current impasse between Niagara Falls and the SPCA “demonstrates that none of the parties understands what No Kill really means or what it must entail. The contract that the city has brokered with the SPCA in the past is based on an antiquated, punitive model of animal control-one that no longer works today. And Niagara SPCA still hasn’t embraced the philosophy of No Kill because they continue to blame the No Kill mission, the public, and the animals for their current financial plight.”

Tutzauer has been critical of the SPCA Board for creating a large part of its current mess by disenfranchising its members, denying voting privileges, reserving voting for an elite few, and exempting their own board members from supporting the very organization that they feel the public is not supporting now.

Tutzauer believes the SPCA, among other things, must have a basic infrastructure that is self-financed and not dependent on contracts to make ends meet. And in an email, she said the City of Niagara Falls “needs to embrace a compliance-based model of animal control rather than a punitive-based model. Rather than operating animal control so as to punish people, it should provide real value to members of the community.”

It appears, based on the much-respected Tutzauer’s analysis, that both sides have a long way to go to make animal control and shelter management work in the interests of the public and of the animals.

We can only hope that Judge Kloch can use his judicial pulpit to get the two sides to the negotiating table in a serious way before things deteriorate any further. In this case, the judge is being called upon to, in a way, be a voice for the animals that are caught in the struggle whose fate-on the streets and at the shelter-- may well be in Judge Kloch’s hands.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Jul 23, 2013