Tonawanda News

July 19, 2013

Judge keeps restraining order in place, seeks long-term settlement between city and SPCA

By Rick Pfeiffer
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — LOCKPORT — A State Supreme Court justice has extended, for a week, a temporary restraining order that forces the SPCA of Niagara to continue to provide animal control services to the city of Niagara Falls.

The ruling followed an hour-long conference on Thursday morning between lawyers for the city and the SPCA and Justice Richard Kloch Sr.

Kloch also said he expects the Falls City Council to approve, at it’s meting on Wednesday night, a six-month extension of the city’s contract with the SPCA. That contract proposal contains a significant increase in the service fee the city would have to pay to the shelter.

“I anticipate that the city council of Niagara Falls will look favorably upon a six-month extension, as agreed upon, and that this will lead to a long-term agreement,” Kloch said. 

Lawyers for the city pointed out later that a contract extension has not been “agreed to” and the proposal that will be given the to council, for their consideration, is the SPCA’s most recent contract offer.

“I think the judge hopes this will get worked out,” Assistant Corporation Counsel Doug Janese said.

Kloch told the lawyers he will “retain jurisdiction” over the contract dispute with a hope of getting the city and SPCA into a longer term deal.

“Even if the council acts on an extension,” Kloch said, “the court will retain jurisdiction to assist in the negotiation of a long-term extension.”

Janese said the city is willing to work toward that goal.

“We’re willing to come to the table and the SPCA wants to come back to the table and I think (the judge) is working working to mediate that,” Janese said. “Sometimes you need a neutral third party to take a look at these things.”

Kloch directed SPCA of Niagara Treasurer David Urban to meet with City Controller Maria Brown before the council considers the SPCA contract. Brown has said the city needs a better understanding of what other municipalities pay the shelter and how much of a burden the city’s animal control demands are placing on the not-for-profit. 

The SPCA had threatened to discontinue non-emergency animal control services to the city because, the organization said, it was no longer in a financial position to continue “subsidizing” those services. The Lockport Road animal shelter maintains the $83,520 per year that they are paid under an existing contract, which expired at the end of 2011 but has continued on a month to month basis since then, is not sufficient to cover the costs of what the SPCA calls a “high-need dog population” in the Falls.

SPCA board President Michelle Madigan has estimated that the shelter loses about $150,000 per year under its current contract with the city. Madigan says that is “putting a tremendous financial strain” on the shelter’s “very limited budget.”

The organization had proposed a new $230,000 a year contract with the city and later offered to cut that fee to $180,000 a year. The six month proposal that will go to the City Council calls for a $15,000 a month payment. 

“Once there is an extension in place, we’re hoping there is a more reasonable fee for the services,” SPCA board spokesperson Jennifer Pitarresi said.

The SPCA has said that it will continue to provide animal rescue and cruelty prevention services, as needed in the falls, until a new contract with the city is completed.  

Kloch also cleared the way for the city to use so-called “casino funds” to pay for SPCA services. The judge called the shelter’s work “critical to economic development” in the city.

“If you have a pack of dogs roaming through Niagara Falls, people won’t go to the casino or DiCamillo’s or Michael’s,” Kloch said. “I make a finding that providing humane treatment and control of animals is an essential service like garbage collection and policing and is important to the city’s economic viability.”

Kloch said his findings meant that “payment for these services could come from gambling funds.”

$180,000 Yearly payment sought by SPCA from Niagara Falls. The amount the city pays now is $83,520 per year.