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County to study Humane Society's expenses

April 20, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - After struggling on Monday with whether to increase the Humane Society's budget, the Washington County Commissioners will meet today with officials from that organization to go over its expenses in detail.

Last week the Humane Society asked the commissioners for an increase of about $783,000, citing rising costs and an increase in the number of animals it shelters.

No representatives of the Humane Society attended the commissioners' budget meeting Monday.

"They're going to have to come in and talk to us about their budget," Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

The meeting will be held today at 1:15 p.m. at the County Administration Building.

If approved, about $362,000 of the $783,000 request would be put toward the current fiscal year's budget. It would be in addition to the $510,620 the county currently pays it to provide animal control services.

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The remaining $421,000 would be part of the $1.3 million the Humane Society requested from the county for the fiscal year 2005 budget, which begins on July 1. County staff has proposed giving the agency $769,746, an increase of $259,126, for the coming fiscal year.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell suggested the commissioners explore a county takeover of the nonprofit group in an attempt to cut costs and increase oversight. The county would then rent the building to the Humane Society, he said.

"I shudder at us taking over the operations," County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

Wivell said such a move would put a stop to the Humane Society taking in animals from outside Washington County.

Humane Society officials said last week that it shelters out-of-county animals and has a policy of not turning away any animal.

The Humane Society is under a five-year contract with the county to provide animal control services. The contract is up this year, county officials said.

Commissioner John C. Munson said the county should find somebody else to provide the services if it can't renegotiate a price with the Humane Society.

Munson said giving the Humane Society a $259,126 increase as proposed by county staff was "way overboard."

If the organization were to receive an increase, it shouldn't be more than $100,000, he said.

Snook said finding another organization to take over animal control services would be an option. He said, however, he thinks the organization's cost-saving measures would come down to cutting services.

He said the county also would probably have to give the Humane Society a funding increase.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he thought the organization should be more accountable to the county. Currently, the county has no control over salary and other issues, he said.

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said she wanted more information on the Humane Society's work schedules for its 33 employees, how many employees are full time and part time, how long they work and other information.

She said having 33 employees would equate to 10 people per shift.

"That doesn't make any sense," Nipps said.

In another budget discussion, Munson proposed cutting the county's property taxes by about $3 million for the coming fiscal year. He said residents need the cut because of new state fees they'll be paying.

"We can't keep hogging and hogging..." Munson said. "I think it's only fair to do that."

The commissioners would have to cut the proposed $147.5 million budget to reduce property taxes.

Munson said $1 million of his proposed $3 million cut could be taken from an increase the county tentatively plans to give the Washington County Board of Education.

The county has proposed giving the school board $78.8 million, which is about $4 million more than the $74.8 million it received for this fiscal year.

Munson also suggested that nonprofit groups receive no increases in fiscal year 2005 to help make up for the proposed property tax cut.

Snook said the commissioners would discuss Munson's proposal at a later date.

Public meeting


What: Washington County Commissioners meeting with the Humane Society of Washington County

When: Today, 1:15 p.m.

Where: County Administration Building, 100 W. Washington St., Hagerstown

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