Assembly wants alternatives to cutting HARK

 


Dog lovers, don’t despair yet.

The Haines Borough Assembly on Tuesday passed a motion directing borough staff to investigate different ways the municipality could fund the Haines Animal Rescue Kennel at the $45,000 level.

Current cuts proposed by manager David Sosa would slash HARK’s contract from $47,800 to $16,200. Sosa’s plan would cut the contract and move dog-catching responsibilities to police officers.

Assembly member Joanne Waterman made the motion, which passed 5-1, with assembly member George Campbell opposed. Waterman said she made the motion based on what she has heard from constituents and her knowledge of the town’s history with animal control.

A half-dozen residents spoke on behalf of restoring funding to HARK.

Former assembly member Norm Smith said the assembly should leave the animal control duties with HARK and let the police do the jobs they were trained to do.

“Let’s keep the HARK budget viable. If the government can forgive port fees for $3,000, fund a noise study for $42,000, fund a police department study for $20,000, buy a $50,000 car hauler truck but have no lot to haul the cars to, and fund a $30,000 winter tourism study, surely we can fund HARK,” Smith said.


Several members of the public called the borough’s contract with HARK “a bargain” because of the additional services the nonprofit is able to provide besides animal control. Lea Harris, one of HARK’s founders and its current vice president, said the cut was “extremely disproportional.”

“All we are asking for here is a fair shake,” Harris said.

Retired veterinarian Betsy Lyons lauded HARK’s expertise, enthusiasm, professionalism and integrity. She also urged assembly members to look at a document submitted by HARK executive director Tracy Mikowski that showed how different levels of funding cuts would affect services provided.

Manager David Sosa initially tried to keep the document out of the assembly’s packet, saying it would be part of contract negotiations. “While the assembly deals with total allocation of funds, it does not deal with items related to contract negotiations. Our review therefore determined that your concerns are best addressed through contract negotiations and that they are not the purview of the assembly,” Sosa wrote in an email to Mikowski.


Mikowski said she wasn’t asking for the assembly to act on anything, but wanted the document included for the assembly’s consideration. “I discussed it with the board and we all felt this was information that was important to get to the assembly,” she said. “(Sosa’s) answer was no, this will not be included in the packet.”

Clerk Julie Cozzi did not respond to a request for an explanation as to how the document ultimately ended up in the packet.

“I just looked at the agenda and saw it was there,” Mikowski said.

Sosa stood by his proposed cuts to HARK, offering figures for what other communities spend on animal control. Pueblo County, Colo., with a population of 161,000, spends $3.55 per capita on animal control; Lake Elsinore, Calif., with a population of 235,000, spends $4.25 per capita; and Buellton, Calif., with a population of about 5,000, spends $7.05 per capita.

Comparatively, Haines spends $19.20 per capita, Sosa said.

Assembly member Mike Case was confused by Sosa’s numbers, as they were all for towns larger than Haines. Case invoked economies of scale and pointed out that fixed costs are spread out in large towns.

HARK’s animal control officer Janet Lawson piped up and asked if those towns had “no-kill” shelters – which are much more expensive to run – but no one responded.

Case said he has received about 20 phone calls from people regarding HARK funding.

“I think that the people want to take care of the animals here in a professional way. I think if you would take 20 people at random and say, ‘Would you rather have the animals taken care of like they have been in a professional manner or have one more policeman?’ the animals would win hands down,” he said.


Assembly members floated various ideas for how funding might be restored to the $45,000 level, including assembly member Dave Berry’s suggestion to take money from the $32,500 community chest used to fund other nonprofits.

Assembly member Ron Jackson objected to taking the money from other nonprofits, stating even a little bit of money for them goes a long way, as they leverage those funds for larger grants from other organizations. “To take away that visible support from the borough really hurts them,” Jackson said.

No assembly members brought up the idea of funding the contract using the townsite service area’s reserve fund, which has more than $1 million.

The Finance Committee will meet at 3 p.m. Monday to discuss potential ways to restore HARK’s funding.

The assembly’s next public hearing on the budget is at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26. 

 
 

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