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SPCA vs. County: Feud Continues

By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO — November 3, 2006 — The SPCA is fighting back.
After the Democrat reported a bill totaling nearly $17,000 in charges had been delivered to the county government center by the Rock Hill facility for services rendered, President Bonnie Swack has penned a letter to fight allegations of impropriety.
Swack’s letter, which said at the bottom that it had been carbon copied to the Democrat, challenged county officials to sit down and talk about their issues.
“The fact is, instead of discussing the bill with us and asking us regarding the charges, an anonymous source from the county turned our honesty and trust into a media frenzy portraying the SPCA as corrupt and overcharging,” Swack said.
The story in question, published in the Democrat’s Oct. 20 issue, compared fees of as much as $180 to pick up a dog or cat with the $50 fee charged by the Town of Liberty Animal Control Office to pick up strays for the towns of Rockland, Bethel, Fallsburg and Thompson.
But Swack said the comparison is like that of “apples and oranges.”
Most dog control officers have town-owned vehicles and are reimbursed for gas, insurance and other expenses, she charged.
Although that’s true for some towns, Town of Liberty – the town referenced in the article – does not provide a vehicle for its dog control officer.
Liberty Dog Control Officer Joanne Gerow said she gets reimbursed for mileage by the town, but she is responsible for insuring her vehicle, for tires and maintenance.
And although Swack contends that the SPCA faces travel expenses much greater than that of other dog control officers, having to cover the entire county, Gerow said that’s equally untrue.
If she’s called upon by the Town of Rockland, for example, she has to make the drive from her home in Swan Lake to as far as Beaverkill Valley.
Swack’s breakdown of the bill to the county also explained the substantial cost of housing seven dogs and three cats from July 10 to Sept. 7 and two horses for a period of 28 days. Also held were a goat, turtle and several fish.
The animals were taken from a home on Thunderhill Road at the request of the Fallsburg Police Department, according to Swack’s report.
When animal cruelty charges were levied against their owners, the animals became evidence and could not be returned to the owners, she explained.
Although the call came from the Fallsburg department, Swack said the county should still honor the cost – a total of $6,300 for boarding seven dogs; $1,800 for the board of three cats; $400 for boarding two horses; and $435 for boarding one goat.
Added to that are fees of $360 for the pickup of the dogs and $175 for the pickup of the horses as well as medical fees of $910.
The numbers represent $10,380, more than half of the total bill presented by Swack at a meeting of the county’s public safety committee.
Her letter reasons that the animals’ owners were held in the Sullivan County Jail, the case was prosecuted by the Sullivan County District Attorney with Sullivan County providing a public defender and the owners’ children were in the custody of Sullivan County Child Protective Services.
“Yet, the animals who were the victim once are now possibly going to be the victims again by Sullivan County, the same Sullivan County who provided for their abusers,” Swack said.
Other calls listed date back as far as January 16, when three SPCA personnel, including Swack (who is a volunteer and not on the SPCA payroll), were called to rescue a dog abandoned in Harris.
According to Legislative Aide Alexis Eggleton, the county has asked the SPCA to continue handling animal control for the county on a per diem basis while this bill is reviewed.
They’ve been instructed that payment will be rendered only for calls generated by a county agency, with an incident number supplied by a dispatcher at the Sheriff’s Department.
But there’s no talk of reinstating the $15,000 allotment the county provided to the SPCA prior to January 1 when the legislature opted not to renew the county’s contract.
County Manager David Fanslau said the county instead will be talking with Town of Liberty Supervisor Frank DeMayo and Gerow to discuss a possible intermunicipal agreement for Liberty to provide animal control services to the county for the remainder of the year.
Fanslau has been informed that the SPCA is currently turning away all calls – and calls made by Democrat sources were in fact rebuffed by SPCA staff who said there was no financing available to answer cruelty cases.
Fanslau said that puts into question the validity of the SPCA charter, a question he will pose to the state, requesting they review and possibly revoke that charter.
“I think there is a need for a county SPCA,” he said. “Unfortunately there are needs they need to meet.”
But he said the latest presentation by Swack did not clear up questions the county has posed about the nearly $17,000 bill.
Until those questions are satisfied and Swack can explain the vast difference in pick-up fees between the SPCA’s $180 charge and that of the Town of Liberty, Fanslau said it won’t be paid.
“Unfortunately, they seem to be unwilling to cooperate,” he noted. “As county manager, I have a fiscal responsibility to not pay a bill I can’t legitimize.
“What can be substantiated, we most likely will pay for.”
The county is required by state law to provide care for animals in cases related to the Sheriff’s Department and the probation department, and that will continue – somehow.
But Fanslau said by 2007 he expects the county will be drafting a request for proposals for animal control.

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