Council budget proposal chews on PAWS

DeWayne Bartels

Second District councilwoman Barbara Van Auken is fielding calls, answering e-mails and beating the drum to garner public support to preserve the Peoria Animal Welfare Society.

Meanwhile, the Peoria Humane Society has taken to the Internet sending out an action alert via e-mail.

PAWS faces an uncertain future.  Tuesday night the city council is scheduled to vote on one of three options to cut costs. PAWS, with a $1.6 million budget, faces cuts so drastic it would effectively gut the agency. If the most drastic option — a $500,000 budget cut is adopted — an estimated 7,000 animals will be euthanized annually.

The Peoria Humane Society e-mail stated, “In an effort to save money the city council is considering surrendering the animal control program over to the County of Peoria. If this happens, the high level of services currently offered in the Peoria area will no longer be available — including pet adoptions, wildlife rescue, and after hours emergency response.

“The well-being of animals and humans will be dramatically affected with longer response time to calls for service, fewer officers available, and less medical care for animals in need. Please help to continue the programs at PAWS by contacting your City of Peoria council person in support of the City keeping PAWS so to insure life saving animal programs will continue.  Thank you for your interest in this matter.”

Van Auken said she hopes she has six votes in favor of cuts, but cuts not so drastic they lead to the virtual elimination of the agency.

“This is about public safety. Eighty percent of the work they do is public safety,” she said.

Van Auken said she is concerned, however, that without public support the agency is in trouble.

“I have some colleagues who don’t care. I know they are getting bombarded with calls and e-mails. I am,” Van Auken said. 

“As we have an increase in the number of people who want to use animals as a weapon the need for this service increases.”

Van Auken said anyone concerned about the shelter needs to speak up to the council before Tuesday’s vote.

“The mayor, who chaired Bark In The Park, yesterday, encouraged people to contact the council. I think he has an open mind. If people care about this they need to contact us.”

Lauren Malmberg, PAWS director, said her department has met the council’s 12 percent budget reduction requirement. They lost one employee by doing that.

“We can meet the 12 percent and maintain services,” Malmberg said. “Anymore than the 12 percent and services will be effected.”

The first option before the council is to turn the shelter over to the county. Peoria County administrator Patrick Urich has been less than enthusiastic about that idea, since the shelter is expected to have a $500,000 budget shortfall in 2009.

A council memo on this said, “Mr. Urich stated the county has a strict policy of covering the cost of services with identified fees. The county is willing to execute its mandated responsibility, but will retain all revenue generated from rabies registration.”

If the city wants any services above and beyond the mandated duties of animal bite investigations, rabies prevention and dangerous or vicious dog determination, the city would have to pay seperately for those services.

The second option calls for trimming $250,000 from PAWS budget. That would result in closing the shelter on Saturday. Animal control officers would respond to calls only between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week, and be available only for emergency calls after those hours.

In addition:

• municipal contracts would be eliminated. Animal control officers would respond to calls only in Peoria and unincorporated portions of the county.

• there would be less veterinary care for impounded animals.

• animal control officer and supervisors would not have cell phones.

• the NEAT Team would be eliminated. This is a joint task force involving police, animal control and inspectors going into Peoria neighborhoods looking for problem properties.

The third option calls for a $500,000 reduction in PAWS budget. This would result in the elimination of the animal adoption program.

“The shelter will no longer adopt our homeless or unwanted animals; dogs and cats that do not get reclaimed will be humanely destroyed. An estimated 7,000 animals will be euthanized,” a memo to the council said.