A Whole Lot of Growling

Alameda’s animal shelter says it needs more money to care for dogs and cats. But city officials say the shelter intends to hand out big raises to its employees.


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Photo courtesy of Friends of Alameda Animal Shelter

Alameda leaders who say the city has tight budget constraints and advocates for more public funding for Alameda’s lone animal shelter are not yet fighting like cats and dogs, but there’s whole lot of growling going on.

Backers of the facility run by the nonprofit Friends of Alameda Animal Shelter, or FAAS, argue that city funding is too low, and if additional money is not allocated soon, the shelter will close by the end of this month. But city officials strongly object to a proposal by FAAS that calls for nearly doubling the shelter’s annual budget to more than $1.9 million. Currently, the city allocates roughly $350,000 toward the shelter’s $1 million budget to care for about 1,000 animals a year, mostly dogs and cats. FAAS wants the city to hike its annual funding to the shelter by about $1.3 million annually. “At so many different levels, this budget doesn’t make sense,” said Alameda City Manager Jill Keimach, referring to the FAAS proposal.

While some Alameda city officials privately acknowledge that the city will not allow the animal shelter to close this month, the FAAS proposal would place city taxpayers on the hook for potentially subsidizing most of the facility’s operations. The FAAS plan, put forward last fall, would allow the shelter to expand its services, hire additional employees, and increase employee salaries and benefits, but also calls for FAAS to scale back on its fundraising campaigns, thereby putting the onus on additional city funding to fill the gap.

Negotiations between the city and FAAS have continued through the beginning of the year with little movement, according to Keimach. The FAAS board of directors issued a resolution early on that drew a clear line in the sand mandating that shelter Executive Director Nancy Baglietto only accept the proposed $1.9 million budget proposal. Complicating negotiations further, said Keimach, is FAAS’ insistence to negotiate with a large team, included Baglietto, two members of the board, an attorney, and a public relations consultant. “Normally, in these cases, we would work staff-to-staff—Nancy and I, their financial person and ours,” said Keimach.

For months, though, FAAS has focused on taking the issue public with an outreach strategy that has been effective in framing the issue as life or death situation for the animals. The FAAS website also provides its supporters with the shelter’s talking points and urges them to send letters to councilmembers and newspapers. FAAS officials declined to comment while negotiations with the city are ongoing.

But Alameda officials say the proposed budget for the shelter is not really about the animals. Instead, it’s about a big jump in salary and benefits for FAAS employees, along with FAAS’ desire to increase its number of full-time staffers from eight to 12. “The thing we’ve been struggling with and trying to get more information from FAAS over the last several months is why did their budget increase from $1 million to $1.9 million in just the last year?” Keimach said.

After city officials received FAAS’ books in early January, they hired an outside financial analyst to pore over the shelter’s financials. The analyst found that benefits for eight existing full-time employees would increase by 138 percent over 2015-16 levels, under the FAAS proposal. The shelter’s plan also calls for salary hikes ranging from 11.6 percent to 67 percent. In addition, Baglietto’s salary as executive director would jump 55 percent to $140,000 a year. FAAS also intends to add a director of development position at a cost of $92,000 a year. This director’s duties would include managing the shelter’s fundraising efforts. However, according to Keimach and the city’s analysis, FAAS intends to reduce its fundraising by 31 percent in the next fiscal year.

In early February, the city offered its own budget proposal that would increase the FAAS budget by $115,000 over last year to a total of $1.15 million, said Keimach. The city’s proposal also includes an employment agreement in which the city would pick up half the staffing costs of those hired from the Alameda Point Collaborative, a nonprofit that helps former homeless and impoverished members of the community gain housing and job skills. The city would also take over the shelter’s payroll costs and bolster its current part-time animal control officer with an additional full-time employee. The city would also pay for polling to gauge the community’s interest in a future bond measure to increase the shelter’s revenues or build a new facility.

In comparison with other shelters in the area, said Alameda Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, FAAS has been getting less revenue for the services it performs. Ashcraft, like several other councilmembers, expressed concern about the animals in the shelter’s care and lauded FAAS’ high live-release rate but is skeptical about the increase in taxpayers’ dollars that FAAS is demanding. “By keeping their staff the same, we can still add to their budget,” said Ashcraft, “but not to the tune they would like. It’s just not sustainable.”

Mayor Trish Spencer, however, has expressed consistent support for significantly boosting funding for FAAS.

Most agree, however, that the shelter’s current home on Fortmann Way, a simple cinder block building, is small and cramped. In December, the city paid to fix the facility’s roof just before the heavy rains arrived. Ashcraft believes Alameda Point might be a good fit for the shelter in coming years, but any new building or retrofit would require a lot more money. “Do you do a bond measure? Does the public care that much about its animals?” said Ashcraft.

Yet despite the hard-line negotiating over the shelter’s future, city officials say FAAS has provided a valuable service for Alameda since taking over its operations from the Alameda Police Department. Initially, city officials looked at options for outsourcing the shelter to other local groups and agencies, said Keimach, but they found them lacking, and the city’s first preference is to keep the shelter in Alameda for both its convenience to residents and assurances that the city can maintain high live-release rates.

FAAS has also managed its volunteers well and employs strong social media outreach to promote the shelter and its animals, said Keimach. “All of that is important to Alameda.”

 

Published Feb. 21, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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