Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Council Committee Hears Animal Control's Proposed Budget

The Public Safety Committee of the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council met this evening to hear the proposed budget for Animal Care and Control, which falls under the umbrella of the Department of Public Safety. The person presenting Animal Care's budget was the Good Doctor himself, DPS director Frank "Call me Doctor" Straub.

The Good Doctor, who wears the same type of tie that I do when I get all dressed up, started the night off with class by reminding everyone that he used to live in New York and was in the general vicinity when the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks occurred. After invoking 9/11 verbally (speaking of which, look for The Good Doctor to get sued by former NYC Mayor Rudy Guliani for a trademark infringement), he then splashed a picture of the World Trade Center's twin towers burning in his PowerPoint presentation three days outside of the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. What does this have to do with public safety in Indianapolis or Animal Care and Control? I have no idea. But now I'll have to get a new tie.

Sorry, I couldn't resist having a bit of fun at Straub's expense.

But onto the meat of this meeting.

First on the docket, and what I'm focusing on, is the proposed budget for Animal Care and Control. Even though Mayor Greg Ballard (R) said that public safety would stay flat rather than be cut for the 2012 budget, that was a complete sham. Animal Care and Control's proposed budget is being reduced by about $200,000 for general operating expenses, you know, the stuff Animal Care and Control does as part of a service to Marion County citizens. There is a total of $0 from the geniuses who put this budget together for food for the animals and, according to testimony given tonight, the shelter is constantly at full capacity. According to testimony tonight, all food at the shelter is donated. Straub specifically pointed out Proctor and Gamble, as well as Kroger, as major donors.

To their credit, several councilors at the meeting tonight expressed concerns. Benjamin Hunter (R-District 21) and council president Ryan Vaughn (R-District 3) said that they've been talking with other councilors and city officials, assuring that funding for Animal Care's basic operational expenses will be restored to 2010 levels.

Both Hunter and Vernon Brown (D-District 18) bought up over $500,000 in something that Hunter referred to as "chargebacks". Apparently, if a city department like Animal Care and Control needs assistance from another city department, like the Office of Corporation Counsel (city legal), then Corporation Counsel sends Animal Care an invoice. About $400,000 in these "chargebacks" were to Corporation Counsel, and another $100,000 was to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department for responding to animal calls. I was unclear if this was actually in the budget, or if they were looking at "chargebacks" from the previous budget year.

Brown asked how much the average attorney at Corporation Counsel makes, and the city comptroller responded about $50,000. Brown quipped back that it sounds like Animal Care and Control could've "ten lawyers" of their own. While that ignores health care and other expenses, his general point is sound. Considering the legal market is so bad that previously employed lawyers are now stripping for money, I don't think it'd be too hard to fill these positions even if you pay them less than Corporation Counsel attorneys.

Excuse me for asking, but what the flying hell is the point of Corporation Counsel if it isn't to handle the legal work of the city, including city departments? Do they have something better to do? And on a more serious note, where does a "cashback" for Corporation Counsel then go? Into their general fund? Into the individual attorney's pocket? Somewhere else? I'll do some digging to see if I can get some answers.

Public testimony consisted of the usual group of community activists that were joined by animal caretakers and shelters as well as several volunteers from Animal Care and Control. One long time animal caretaker held up a faded copy of The Indianapolis Star from 1994. The headline was "Deadly Wait" describing problems with Animal Control. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Another volunteer encouraged the council to bump the operating fund all the way up to $200,000 repeating the theme that even at $180,000 and change, it's still horribly underfunded for the largest county shelter in the entire state.

And the last citizen to make a comment noted that DPS' administrative fund was $700,000, way above the proposed budget for Animal Care's operating expenses. It really shows where DPS' priorities are.

And finally, I have to give kudos to Public Safety Chairman Benjamin Hunter. He handled the large amount of citizens seeking to comment on the proposed Animal Care budget with class. Even though a buzzer was used, he didn't cut off anyone's microphone or verbally interrupted them. He also put what he knew everyone was there for first on the agenda so that the public could have their voices heard and get on with their lives.

Next up, I tuned in for the several other DPS budgets that were being heard tonight (IFD and IMPD are up next week). I've got quite a few words about The Good Doctor based on my observations from the later portion of the meeting. I'll have a post on that sometime tomorrow.

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