Now, let’s be clear: A lot of problems do get fixed or at least improved. One of these popped up once more the other day and might provide an instructive lesson to those taxpayers who are permanently annoyed by how much government services cost them.
As the Floyd County commissioners started looking at a proposed $45.8 million budget for 2013, no doubt with scissors in hand as has been the norm the past few years, the first function/agency up for review was Animal Control. In 2012, this operation was pegged for $457,500 or almost exactly 1 percent of the public’s total foreseen operating costs to keep the community together.
Animal Control is in and out of the public eye, of course, primarily as regards its shelter operation. Not long ago, some may recall, it practically had certain rescue groups at war with it over access to animals. That’s died down but many pet lovers believe in “no kill” shelters, which government operations are typically not as, after a time without adoption or rescue the death penalty is considered less expensive than continuing to feed/care for animals at taxpayer expense. Plus, of course, room must constantly be made for new intake.
THERE’S REALLY almost no such thing as “no kill” but something more akin to “last resort kill” or “for mercy reasons only” do exist largely when nonprofits are in charge. Before the county government took over, when the Rome-Floyd Humane Society ran the only shelter around, that was the policy.
This is where this topic gets interesting, complex and based on what can be found in this newspaper’s online news archives regarding animal shelters locally provides enough material for a book to be titled “Dog Gone Crazy.” Particularly so at the point where Jason Broome, the director, said the 25-year-old facility is too small, in miserable condition and in dire need of replacement, possibly through a special-purpose, local-option sales tax.
Ye gads! Some recall that this is how the existing building on Callier Springs Road came to be, with $200,000 from the same SPLOST that built the courthouse and Forum (both still standing and looking good if undersized) plus much other stuff. It was the first really big, many-piece SPLOST the community ever approved even though narrowly.
The winning margin was at the time largely credited to animal lovers who turned out to support the new shelter — supposed to be run by the humane society as it had since about 1969 — to replace the one on Kingston Road made useless by the East Rome Bypass having ripped up the field for its septic tank. The humane society had built that one after originally taking a falling down Rome City Pound on Vaughn Road then under the direction of Rome police’s “pet department.” The unincorporated area had nothing at all, although the humane society later extended its reach there.
THAT’S JUST the sheltering and healing and adoption operation, of course. Actual animal “control” and chasing stray bears out of town or putting down rabid dogs or wildlife has always and logically been a public-safety function.
Once the building was ready, and billed at the time as capable of housing 200 animals versus the most recent cataloging of 30 dog cages, 36 cat cages and 12 newly added quarantine units, the County Commission of the time balked at the humane society’s request of $6,000 a month ($72,000 a year) to staff the shelter — leaving the “control” element in the same police-power hands as before. One commissioner even commented that if it was going to cost that much it would be better to use the new building for a pool hall. No … we don’t make this stuff up.
And so the county decided to take over the shelter and boot the humane society, which was refusing to run a “kill” operation besides. The society — back and going gangbusters now — even totally disbanded for a time after this.
And, once in government hands, about the first news the shelter made was its head being fired after showing up for work intoxicated to twice the legal level.
So, what is the personnel cost of Animal Control today? In 2012 it was $366,860, apparently largely for the control end (three officers, one administrative assistant, doubtless some veterinarian fees) as most of the shelter heavy lifting and adoption listings are done by free prisoner labor and a small army of volunteers who also provide extra funding and assistance for such as medical bills (the Rome-Floyd County Humane Society, the Animal Rescue Foundation of Rome-Floyd County, Paws for a Cause). The “revenues” from fines and services listed in the budget as coming from Animal Control are $30,000.
NONE OF THIS is meant to oppose a new and larger shelter, particularly one that doesn’t have to kill as often as it adopts and rely so heavily on outside rescue groups to control the population. Having it both “less kill” and in a more visible location so the public can be reminded of a perpetual problem now kept largely out of sight would be good things. So would be having a “dog park” or two in the community, particularly in downtown where the density of residents (and pets) is getting thick.
It is only meant to ask: Why taxes, or even special pennies, to both build and support such needs? Why not add something to the revenue picture for those who benefit most and have the greatest interest? Why not dog/cat licenses? Heck, once hens are allowed one could “license” them as well.
What’s done in Chatham County (Savannah) at a quite affordable level is a good example, if only because that shelter has recently had problems and uproars making the local noisiness seem hushed. Chatham County requires all cats and dogs to be licensed annually (and kept current on rabies shots as well). The license charge, each and every year, is $35 for an unneutered cat or dog (male or female) and $5 per year for a neutered cat or dog (male or female). There’s also a $50 fine for trying to avoid this plus, if your pet is picked up after getting off leash or out of yard, an impoundment fee of $35 and a daily boarding charge of $10.
NOT EVERYBODY has pets or wants pets. It is to be hoped that nobody hates them or wants to see them put to death or mistreated. The question thus raised is only this: Sure, everybody should chip in via taxes for the general benefit of “control” but sheltering animals that managed to get loose, or whose procreation was not limited, is not the fault or even obligation of all.
A good shelter still needs good caring people running it, with the humane society coming quickly to mind and having done it in Greater Rome before. However, paying for this should come from taxation and begging for funds only as a last resort. The loved dogs and cats should be the revenue sources for those of their kind who may have been less loved.
What Greater Rome has now is just dog gone crazy and the County Commission should fix it.