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A Public Hearing to allow citizens an opportunity to comment on the city’s proposed fiscal year 2011-2012 budget is a legal step in the process of adopting the budget ordinance.

The July 20 hearing on the city’s $3,541,271 proposed budget began with City Finance Director Amy Fealko explaining that the biggest reason for the budget being $97,709 below the previous year was incorporating the city’s Salmon Fire Department into the Lemhi County Fire Protection District. Other reasons mentioned for the lower budget included; the Salmon Police Department budget being lower due Byrne Grant monies coming to an end next year, no employee raises and no guarantee Bureau of Land Management grants will be available next year for the Sacajawea Center.

There were no speakers in support of the proposed budget and no written comments. Under neutral comments Robert Dunlop asked a few clarification questions and said he was glad to see the budget going down.

In the rebuttal portion of the public hearing Fealko commended Dunlop for being the only person who requested a copy of the budget and she answered the questions he had asked.

Speaking in opposition to the proposed budget was Cindy Phelps, President of the Lemhi County Humane Society. The city used to provide the Humane Society $14,000 a year to help maintain and operate the Animal Shelter. Last year that amount was cut in half and the city has proposed continuing the $7,000 allocation for fiscal year 2011-2012.

Last March Phelps made a presentation to the council that highlighted all the things above and beyond animal care that the Humane Society has accomplished for the good of the community. Listed projects included renovation and restoration of the Main Street historic building that now houses Rags and Wags. The renovation also provided space for a new bakery business and made it possible for the Odd Fellows to resume their upstairs meetings. The goal of the presentation was to show the organization’s value to the community as well as all the animal services provided and to encourage a return to previous city funding levels.

At the July 20 hearing Phelps said she thought that because of all the Humane Society’s successful projects the council has assumed the organization is, “…rolling in dough. I would like to tell you that that is definitely not true. All of the things that we have done over the last couple of years have been through grant money or donations which have been earmarked specifically for those projects. It is impossible to go out and find grant money for operating expenses.”

She said they are currently at the bare bones level of only three people to run the shelter. She then pointed out how often Humane Society volunteers actually save the city money by answering animal welfare calls that would otherwise require a city police officer’s time.

Phelps said it takes $15,000 a year to cover the basic operating costs for phone, utilities and maintenance of the shelter building itself, with or without animals in it.

She said 63 percent of the dogs needing to be housed come from the city along with 75 percent of the cats. In lieu of returning to the previous funding level Phelps asked if the city could pay 63 percent of the shelter’s ‘non-animal’ operations costs which would amount to approximately $10,000. That would mean a $3,000 increase in what has been budgeted.

The hearing was officially closed however the subject of the Animal Shelter funding allocation continued throughout the council meeting.

During the council’s Roundtable Discussion Councilman Ken Hill said the Humane Society budget is stretched to the point of either having to cut services or start charging for such things as impound fees. He said he didn’t want to see that happen.

His remarks brought up the three reading ordinance process of adopting the budget and the fact that changes can be made to the proposed budget during that process.

More discussion of the Humane Society allocation came during the scheduled first reading of the budget ordinance. Councilman Jim Baker was not in favor of returning to the $14,000 level but thought the $10,000 request was valid. Councilman Fred Waidely thought the funding should be restored to $14,000 and Councilman Jim Kluesner said if the allocation was raised by $3,000 that money would have to come from juggling the funds within the overall budget without increasing it. Finance Director Fealko agreed since an increase in the total budget figure would require an increase in taxes. Councilman Ron Radford felt it would be possible to come up with the extra $3,000.

Mayor Leo Marshall asked the City Finance Committee to review the $3,000 request and report its recommendation to the full council’s August 3 meeting.

The first reading of the proposed fiscal year 2011-2012 City Budget as written was passed unanimously.

During the final Public Comment period of the evening Robert Dunlop addressed some of his remarks to the Humane Society request saying he was vehemently opposed to any increase in tax dollar funding when 37,000 people are dying of starvation every day. He said, “And, why we should be concerned about some animals when a human being is starving to death says something bad about humanity. Enough said about the seven, ten or 14 thousand.”

In response, Cindy Phelps pointed out the city has animal control laws which means the city has to have a facility in which to place animals should those laws be broken. She said if the city had to operate the shelter and did so at the wage level it now pays its employees, which ranges between $12.46 and $15.88 per hour, the employees alone would cost the city from $73,000 to $90,000 a year as compared to the Humane Society’s $48,000 per year payroll. Payroll would be in addition to the shelter’s $15,000 per year operating costs. As for her reply to the previous speaker’s comments regarding concern about animals she quoted Abraham Lincoln as saying he had no respect for any man who didn’t have respect for all of God’s creatures.

Tamara Bruhn Nelson is the Lemhi County Humane Society’s Treasurer. She spoke about the importance of assisting with the organization’s financial security not only for sake of the animals but for the good of the community.

The City Finance Committee will be meeting at 10AM August 3. The next meeting of the full council and possible second reading of the budget ordinance will be that evening at 6PM. Both meetings will take place in the Salmon Valley Center meeting room.

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