The decision by the Queensbury Town Board not to renew its contract with Warren County SPCA but to hire SPCA of Upstate New York instead was premature.
Questions remain unanswered about the service Upstate will provide, and the board failed to take up an offer from Jim Fitzgerald, president of Warren County SPCA, to negotiate on price.
The board made a seemingly rational decision to contract with Upstate for fewer services at a much lower price. But when Fitzgerald offered to negotiate his price for fewer services, the board inexplicably did not respond.
At the very least, the board should have given both agencies the chance to bid on providing a certain suite of services. Then it could have compared the bids based on price and also on residents’ experience with the two agencies.
It is relevant that about 40 residents showed up at a Town Board meeting to advocate for continuing the contract with Warren County SPCA. They believe it’s worth it for the town to spend more to get the round-the-clock service the agency provides.
Dog control is nothing to sniff at. Dogs are beloved as family members, and having someone show up in the middle of the night to find your missing pet is a valuable service.
Upstate SPCA’s director, Cathy Cloutier, said her agency won’t respond after hours except for a dangerous dog call.
So we have to ask, if a dog is spotted running loose in a neighborhood, how do you know if it’s dangerous? Any loose dog is possibly dangerous, especially to children, and every loose dog poses a potential danger to traffic on the roads.
George Ferone, the only board member to vote against switching contracts, said he’d been contacted by more people on this issue than any other during his short tenure. Upstate’s presentation to the board did not reassure him the agency had the staff to handle the town’s calls, he said.
Also, we cannot dismiss the objection raised by Warren County SPCA that Upstate is functioning more as a dog-seller than a dog shelter. Both agencies are registered as nonprofits. But Upstate SPCA brought in 2,600 dogs over the past three years from a kill shelter in Tennessee, charging people who adopted them $390 apiece. That’s more than $1 million in income.
Warren County SPCA acquired 43 dogs last year from its local activities in dealing with loose and neglected dogs. It charged people $195 to adopt. At that rate, over three years, its income from dog adoptions would be about $25,000.
In both cases, the adoption fee covers spay or neutering of the dog and vaccinations.
So where Warren County’s income from adoption charges is small and incidental to its services, Upstate’s income from adoption charges is, in comparison, huge. Dealing with almost 900 dogs a year that it imports from out of state and adopts out has to take up much of the staff time at Upstate.
The town’s lawyer said the high volume of dogs being imported by Upstate did not disqualify it from providing animal control services. Nonetheless, it raises questions about the agency’s use of resources and its mission.
The other Town Board members — beside Ferone — seemed pleased at the opportunity to save more than $100,000 on the town’s dog service contract. Warren County SPCA was charging the town $165,000 a year, while Upstate SPCA’s contract is for $60,000.
The problem is, the board did not go through much of a deliberative process. Many people have made it known they care deeply about this issue — many want more services than the town is going to be providing — and board members did not make a convincing case that those services are unnecessary.
The decision seems to have been made on cost alone. We don’t object to saving money, but why didn’t the board decide what the necessary services were, then invite both agencies to bid on those?
We expect the town will move ahead now under a new contract with Upstate SPCA. The board should at least require the agency to produce a monthly report, showing how many calls it took, how often it responded and what services it provided so the board has some data for evaluating its performance. We will not be surprised if, six months or a year from now, this decision gets reconsidered.