Ascension animal control shelter likely to remain open

Monday, March 11, 2013 - 9:47pm

Animal lovers in Ascension Parish won a small victory Monday night, when the parish's strategic planning committee recommended to keep the animal shelter open.

But the problem of what to do with the shelter is hardly solved.

A week before, members of the council suggested the shelter should be closed because it does not bring in enough money. They suggested keeping just two animal control officers on staff, which would save more than $300,000

Councilman Kent Schexnaydre said Monday the shelter has annual revenues of $75,000, but expenses of $398,000. Closing the shelter would eliminate nearly all of that deficit.

Dozens of people attended the committee's meeting to say the shelter is invaluable. 

"I believe (the council members) understand it, they just don't understand it to the full extent," said Mason Gregoire.

Gregoire was one of a few young people in attendance who give their time to as volunteers to protect and care for animals. 

Without a shelter, they said that a bad stray problem would only get worse, and more dangerous.

"And I love animals," said Madison Daniels, "but since they carry diseases, and if you're going to have more and more out there, and they're just going to reproduce more, then that's just going to spread the disease."

Seven people spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, all in favor of keeping the shelter open.

But at some point in the past week, the council members had changed their minds; all five people on the committee said they wanted to keep the shelter open.

"Everyone I've spoken to on this council wants to not only maintain our animal control, but wants to continue to improve upon it," said Kent Schexnaydre. "We're very proud of what we do have for a parish."

"We don't really have an option two, or B," agreed Daniel "Doc" Satterlee.

But losing that much money is not an option, either, so the council needs to figure out a way to pay for the shelter.

"We can probably get through the year as is," said Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez. "We had budgeted it fully this year."

One idea to increase revenue is for Gonzales, Donaldsonville, and St. James Parish to pay for the services Ascension Parish provides them. That would generate roughly $147,000 more, cutting the deficit in half.

The more secure, long-term option, is a tax increase, roughly half a mill, which would cover all the shelter's costs.

"When it comes to budget time, all these things get kicked around, and I don't want to see animal control being a political football that goes back and forth for the next 10-20 years," Schexnaydre said. "And without a funding mechanism that's dedicated to animal control, I'm afraid... that that's what's going to happen."

The tax eliminate the uncertainty of the shelter's funding, which is an issue also faced by the parish's mosquito control and recreation divisions.

"We're almost at $3.5 million of undedicated funds that are draining on the general fund," stated Benny Johnson, "which is why, part of the reason why, we have a problem funding roads."

The committee voted to recommend the status quo to the full council, but there is no set date for when the council will act.

It remains up to the full council to keep the shelter running.

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