The developments with the potential city/Maclean Animal Center are quite disturbing to me. Yes, legally two commissioner can apparently meet with members of groups, including the Maclean. They claim these meetings are not secret because Commission Robinson mentioned investigating a city partnership with the Maclean as a commission initiative back in February. Mayor Kelly even stated that Commission Moe and Robinson’s efforts were exploratory at best.
However, documents I secured in a FOIA revealed that the effort of the commissioners are much more than exploratory, as revealed in a previous article in E-City Beat.
I want everyone to read Commissioner Moe’s comments at the May 7 commission meeting where the cattery project was finally allowed to proceed. Then I have followed with some questions I want everyone to think about.
Commissioner Moe speaking on the potential Maclean partnership and the Cattery decision Transcribed from City Commission meeting on May 7, 2019. Moe’s comments start at approximately 1:53:47.
“I hinted at our last meeting what I considered to be the problems with the proposal that is in front of us and I think Commissioner Bronson has alluded to the larger issue which is of greater concern to me than the one in front of us tonight.
And the larger issue is that it doesn’t make sense for a community that is as tax sensitive as this community is, to turn its back on the fact that we are duplicating services; that there are ways that we can work with the foundation to meet the missions of both and that the potential for cost savings is extraordinary.
As an example, Commissioner Robinson and I recently visited Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter in the Gallatin Valley and for a fraction of what we are paying annually, they contract with the City of Bozeman, Gallatin County, at
least one other community, Belgrade, and Madison County, I believe, and if we contracted with them under the same circumstances, we would save five hundred thousand dollars a year—half a million dollars a year.
And I’m not saying that these discussions will lead us to anything close to that number but I am saying that if we can save money and provide an equal or better product, we have to let the grievances of the past go. We have to find a way to make it work. We owe that to all the other departments in this city that are struggling to perform their missions.
So I have been focused on that bigger picture at the same time that I would not want anyone in this room or beyond it to conclude that I have anything but the highest respect for the shelter staff, particularly its director who I admire greatly, or that I care less for the animals that are there which is not the case at all.
And in fact, I really wrestled with this decision because I think it takes us one more step in the wrong direction. But, and I would point out to you that when we turned down the bid a year ago, the bid at that time was for seven hundred and five thousand dollars I believe, to do the cattery. And it’s come down two hundred and fifty grand. So let’s re-examine the idea that oh, if we put this off we’ll never get that good a bid again. That may not be true.
But what seems to me is true is that more cats will be sick and probably some of them will die, and they will be in conditions that we should not say as a city that we can tolerate, so that’s animals first.
And the second one is a whole bunch of people gave a lot of money to make this happen. And it’s amazing what they’ve accomplished. And I don’t want to undermine that philanthropy in any way. I think it’s truly extraordinary and as a practical matter, as many of my CPA friends have told me—you can’t give it back. I mean, it’s not like you can just say, we’re going to do that—it’s very problematic in terms of giving it back.
So those two things have been dispositive for me. But I want you to know that I still think that these discussions are important to have, that my vote tonight does not indicate any kind of commitment to anything future with regard to the master plan at all. And that I am fully cognizant that the facility, although I’ve been assured that it will not require additional FTEs, that ultimately I believe that it will. I’ve dealt with expanded facilities and it is an increased liability on its face. So, but that said we have raised the money, we have cats that are in dire
need and so, I’m going to support this. But I want you to give me and Owen a chance to see if we can’t save this community money and the needs of these animals, just as well. And if we can’t, we can’t. But I just have to try.”
So there you have it, Moe on record, and I have several concerns regarding what Commission Moe has said in the above statement. These are but a few of the questions I would have for her:
First, Moe claims she is concerned that the cattery will add additional full time employees to the city budget. But Moe has already authored a proposal for the Maclean/City of Great Falls partnership entitled “Joining Hands” (see here). In that proposal, the city takes over responsibility for all costs for its “mission.”
What is the city’s mission you may wonder— well the city will be responsible for the feeding, housing and medical care for the animals at both the Maclean and the Animal Shelter. That certainly will cost the city additional FTEs, along with other costs they don’t have now.
How can Moe be concerned about additional employees for the cattery and not be concerned about additional employees to run the Maclean?
Secondly, is Moe merely ill informed when she stated the potential saving could be half a million dollars a year? Is she correct? No, on both counts. We know she’s not ill informed because she authored the partnership document which states the fiduciary responsibilities of both parties. She knows the city will take on the lion’s share of costs, including increased staff at city wages. She also knows that the majority of the budget now for the Animal Shelter is “personal services” which is city employee costs—more than half a million a year according to their budget.
So how can she rationalize that the increased staff needed to run both facilities and the increased cost of caring for animals at both facilities would save the city money?
The emails I secured also mention a lease. I’m guessing that means the Maclean will charge the city rent for use of their facility, which the Maclean clearly retains ownership of in the partnership. So, even more costs to the city. Where’s the savings in that?
Moe also mentioned in recent commission meetings that duplication of costs that are currently taking place and alludes to a cost savings once those duplication are eliminated. But it appears to me that the only savings will be for the Maclean, as their duplicated costs of caring for animals and running the facility appeared to be eliminated in the partnership.
Who will ultimately pay for these costs? You the taxpayer will foot the bill when additional costs are passed along to the city.
I believe that, even though these “talks” between Commissioners Moe and Robinson (who is former president of the Animal Foundation/Maclean) are apparently legal, they are not truly in the best interests of the city.