The City of Niagara Falls has asked a judge to stop the Niagara County SPCA from cutting off dog control services, which the agency announced on Thursday it planned do after contract talks broke off last week.
The city is seeking a temporary restraining order against the agency’s move to terminate some services Monday, a move the agency says is necessary after the city had been stalling during negotiations and because the agency is losing $150,000 a year under the arrangement.
State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. will consider signing the temporary restraining order today, court officials said.
The legal action follows an announcement from the SPCA on Thursday morning that its board of directors had voted to cease dog control services in the city after nearly a year of negotiating and the parties failing to come to a new agreement.
“The Niagara County SPCA is not in a financial position to continue subsidizing animal control services for the city,” Board President Michelle D. Madigan said in a written statement. “Without regard to any other shelter concerns or goals, the fees received from the city do not begin to meet the cost of providing services under the current contract.”
The city had been paying $6,960 per month under terms of the last agreement but the agency has been looking for a new monthly payment of $15,000, or $180,000 annually, the SPCA said.
According to the SPCA, while the city paid $83,520 for services in 2011, the actual cost to the agency of those services was more than $170,000.
In 2012, the agency’s cost for services in the city ballooned to $230,000, according to the agency.
During that year, the agency said it responded to 899 calls from the city, and 68 percent of those calls were for stray animals.
The agency said it will continue to provide rescue and cruelty prevention services in the city, as required by law and as part of its mission.
But city officials believe the agency must give the city 30 days notice if it intends to terminate any services.
Officials say they have no dog control officer and no alternative kennel arrangements.
“If the SPCA is allowed to discontinue these contractually obligated services without any notice, it creates an imminent public safety hazard and substantially increases the risk of irreparable harm to the city and the public at large,” City Administrator Donna D. Owens said in a signed affidavit.
According to the agency, the city’s “stated alternative” to using the SPCA “is to convert a city pickup truck and have road crews pick up stray animals.”
The agency accused the city of stalling during negotiations, adding that Mayor Paul A. Dyster became personally involved in talks last week only to not participate in a last-ditch conference call.The city’s negotiating team, which consisted of Owens, Controller Maria Brown, Corporation Counsel Craig H. Johnson and City Clerk Carol Antonucci, kept asking for more information, said Jennifer R. Pitarresi, a spokeswoman for the SPCA board.
When they got an answer from the SPCA, they continued to ask for more, Pitarresi said.
The only information the SPCA refused to supply was “proprietary comparative data of other municipalities and towns served.”
According to Owens’ affidavit, the last contract between the parties expired at the end of 2009, but both sides agreed to extend it as negotiations continued.
The last extension was for January through March of this year, according to the affidavit. While the City Council and the SPCA both approved the extension, the contract was never actually signed, Owens’ affidavit said.
The SPCA says the deal expired at the end of 2011.
The agency also sent the city a bill for July, which the city has not paid. The city said it received the bill on Wednesday.
The Niagara County SPCA has undergone organizational changes in recent years after serious concerns were raised about its operations, including mismanagement and mistreatment of animals.
The SPCA, which serves the entire county, says Niagara Falls makes up 40 percent of the animals served by the agency but uses an estimated 70 percent of the agency’s resources
“The shelter can no longer afford to continue providing a high level of quality animal care services to the City of Niagara Falls while incurring substantial financial losses which are required to provide those services,” SPCA Treasurer David Urban said in a written statement. “A substantial portion of our operating budget is used to fund the deficit on the Niagara Falls contract. These are funds which could be used to provide additional services and programs to all residents of Niagara County.”