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COMMENTARY · 9th March 2010
Walter McFarlane
Well, the Kitimat City Council Budget for 2010 has been passed in principle. After 4 all day meetings and several City Council meetings of budget, cutting, discussion and so on… The budget this year is a pretty big thing. We at the Kitimat Daily are still digesting the numerous implications of the budget and what the cuts will mean for 2011 and 2012.

But what is really interesting is the role the Animal Shelter project plays in all of this. The Council cut back the Fire Department. They cut back the Kitimat Ice Rink. They cut back summer students. They even cut back the District Christmas Party. The Councillors even received a $20 pay cut (insert dramatic music here).

But $75,000 more goes into the Looking For Love Project! Although it might not seem like much at first, the money adds up. For a council that is trying to save money, burning their projects to produce this money is still taking from the taxpayer. The history of the Looking for Love Animal Shelter reminds me of an old joke.

A man is talking with the Divine one day and starts asking questions. He says: You are powerful, but what is time to you? The Divine power says: To me a million years is but a second. He then asks: What is money to you? The Divine power replies: A million dollars is but a couple of bucks to me. The man finally says: Can I have a couple of dollars? Sure, give me a second.

On March 1st, 2008, Yvonne Lee approached the Kitimat City Council to say: We need a new animal shelter. Her suggestion, accompanied by blueprints, was to renovate the old Air Liquid building. At the time, she estimated the cost of renovating the building would be $531,000. $75,000 was allocated for prebudget approval for the project.
On March 24th, 2008, the purchase of the Liquid Air received prebudget approval because of the large volunteer resource. This required clarification and on March 31st, 2008, Lee appeared before Council a second time to speak about the plans.

She introduced the idea of doing the renovations as a group. She suggested the idea that by doing the renovations as a non profit organization, they would be able to obtain government grants, campaign to the public for donations, collect sponsors and even have a brick by brick donation campaign. She suggested businesses could purchase a kennel to have their name put on it. During the budget process in April, 2008, the Councillors put aside an additional $175,000 after multiple failed motions on the subject.

The Humane Society had other ideas though. On June 9th, 2008, Phyllis Gregg came to visit Council concerned that the money going into the Liquid Air Building was a waste of the taxpayers dollar. Monaghan was opposed to building a new building because it would take too long and renovation of the current building was out of the question because of noise complaints from Radley Park.

On February 23rd,2009, Kim Siepmann visited Council to announce that the project was underway and he was impressed with the volunteers they have had and the way the project was moving along.

On April 6th, 2009, the Animal Shelter Project returned to Council with a request for the 2009 budget. The new estimate for renovating the building had come to $766,000 and they wanted money. Additional costs had come from cladding the exterior of the building, insulating the walls and ceiling, raising the floor and making the building accessible. They requested $500,000 to keep the momentum going.

All the grants which the Looking For Love Shelter had applied for were not available as the group was not a registered charity. They still planned on raising some of the funds themselves and the project had received a lot of support form local contractors.

In Late April, 2009, The Council created their budget. The Animal Shelter took a hit from their request of $500,000. Only $250,000 was directed towards the shelter; it came out of unappreciated surplus. At the time, Councillor Halyk made a motion to make the Shelter more accountable for the funds, as this was the public's money they were dealing with. The motion was carried unanimously.

Lee further updated on September 14th, 2009. This time, the project would cost $1,241,412, a portion of which was volunteer work. They had finally been able to apply for charitable status, which would give them access to grants so they could fund raise for the money. The building was being closer to being completed.

Council decided to reallocate funds away from their project to stop the erosion at Radley Park so the momentum could continue. The amount was $80,000 although it was suggested later this might be less. Halyk at this time expressed opposition on the grounds they were throwing public money into this project which they might not be able to replace. However, he was was outvoted.

On February 22nd, 2010, Lee returned to council for her final appearance to date. The building was almost completed but needed a little more to go. $139,694 to be precise. Although they have achieved charitable status, it has proved ineffective because they still do not meet the status for these grants. One example was the Northern Development Initiative Trust which turned them down because the new shelter would not create jobs. Others stated this project did not fit their criteria, although some requests are still pending.

The Animal Shelter was discussed twice during the 2010 budget process, on the 26th and 27th of February. Halyk again wanted to see more accountability and even hinted they were not looking after the money they were trusted by overpaying one of the contractors before Monaghan called him out of order. The next morning, Monaghan began to argue the shelter’s case even when it was not on the table. After debate and discussion, it was Councillor Rob Goffinet who decided they were going to take $75,000 away from another Council project, the Public Safety Cameras, throwing more of the taxpayers money to the dogs.

The cost has gone up. Granted, no one expected Eurocan to announce a closure, and the workers found a few surprises, but some money was burned to keep the unused half of the building warm. When plans for the shelter were first being spoken of they decided they were only going to renovate the part of the building the shelter was going to use leaving the other half for potential renters. Later they decided to renovate the whole thing. This decision was made before Eurocan made their announcement but it still cost money.

Another problem was a majority of the funds for the animal shelter were supposed to come from the community and grants. However, this would seem to be ill researched because not only did the Looking for Love Animal Shelter fail to get it’s papers in on time last year (which resulted in $250,000 allocated from Council in 2009) but a majority of the grants they have applied for are not available to them. Fortunately, volunteers did step up to bat to do work on the animal shelter so the entire thing is not funded by the taxpayer.

How much has been funded outside of taxpayer revenue of Kitimat? $37,831. In 2008, the Council allocated $75,000 for the building and $175,000 for the renovations. In 2009, they gave $250,000 as they balanced their budget and added an additional $80,000 in September from the Radley Park Erosion Fund. But this was not the last the community would invest because with just over $100,000 to go and the Looking for Love Shelter project able to apply for grants, the taxpayers are going to shell another $75,000 into the project.

So how much has the community payed for Council’s “Pet Project?” $655,000. That is almost nine times what was originally asked for. The end result of the project is a building valued at $1,252,465 which means that the project is $721,465, more than 100%, over budget. In addition, if $655,000 of the $617,831 that has been contributed so far has been given by the District of Kitimat, it means the shelter has been funded 95% by the Council.

Perhaps Rob Goffinet was a Genius with his motion, reminiscent of the parable: "Your both the mother of the child?" said the King, "Cut the Baby in two." His motion forced Council to choose which project they supported more.

Why should the people of Kitimat be ticked off this project was given more money? We are at a stage in our community when unemployment is a key factor. People have just lost jobs from Eurocan. Now, not only has Council cut back on their employment, particularly in the summer student department, but money is being spent to keep the volunteers employed. Most us should feel happy to know: when we can no longer afford to feed the beloved family pet, we have a lovely lockup for it to go to.
Going to the dogs
Comment by Rory Brown on 9th March 2010
I gave this alot of thought, and maby council did the right thing giving over half a million dollars to an animal shelter. With the shrinking town, fewer jobs, and flee bitten decisions made by council, why wouldn't they. With the money they will save on reducing our police and firemen, they need to spend all that tax money somewhere. What if they run out of money you ask. Don't be silly. They will dig deep into your pockets for more, becouse don't forget, its going to cost alot to keep the new Doggie Ritz operating.
I see both sides.
Comment by Mike Forward on 9th March 2010
There are two sides to this equation, and I can see both of them.

On the one side, the new Humane Society is needed. I do not feel that the current shelter is "adequate", no matter what the size of our community. It was appauling the conditions these neglected animals were forced to live in. This is not an SPCA, which frequently euthanizes animals. This is a humane society, one that takes in pets and keeps them warm and safe until a loving home becomes available. The current conditions were atrociouscramped, confined, overcrowded, the whole nine yards. An improvement in the facility was most certainly necessary, and I fully supported Council's decision to support the idea**(make note of this, I will come back to it) of a new shelter. I also firmly disagree with the idea of the security cameras in the community. This idea was essentially brought forward by the owners of private businesses that were being vandalized asking Council to do something about it. In any other town, I can tell you what the answer would bedo it yourself. The business effected should be putting up their own security cameras on their own dime as it is their responsibility, not the District's, to maintain their peremises. Or am I allowed to ask for a security camera to look after my house now if someone vandalizes it on the District's dime? Come on.

Now, the other side.

I do not support the idea of a new shelter "at any cost". Councilor Halyk is bang on. There has been no oversight to how the money has been spent. This has now become a pit for money, going several times over budget. There was no plan, no money trail, nothing for council to follow to ensure that their moneyOUR moneyis being spent appropriately. Where is the auditor? Where is the protection for us the taxpayers to make sure that the funds used for this project are not being misappropriated? It is absolutely unconscienable that a project in excess of $1million has no auditor and no oversight committee. No oversight committee to ensure that certain members of council are ensuring that their friends are well compensated for actions the community is lead to believe are volunteer efforts.

I support Councilor Goffinet's decision to kaibosh the cameras. Those were a bad idea from the get-go that will ultimately do nothing. I support the idea of the Animal Shelter, and the need to complete the project. But I also support Councilor Halyk's idea that there has not been enough oversight, audit, transparency, whatever you want to call it on the spending that has gone into that project.

I support the shelter, but not at ANY cost.
throw money at it
Comment by Domingos DaCosta Rocha on 9th March 2010
A big thankyou to all the volunteer work on this project.
The presentation before council should have initially been scrutinized a lot deeper than a single presentation .Commitees should have been appointed to do a study on all the grant eligibility issues .Sounds like anyone can have a big bs story and our lazy ass council would approve it with little or no comfirmed information or scrutiny or inspection .
Leadership is not just throw money at it .It calls for credible research and scrutiny before monitored approval. this one is definitly a big FAIL for council . But a big congrats to the "looking for love society" ( with a name like that who wouldnt believe everything they say).
The bright side is we have a big beautiful home for animals.Too bad this is a big encouragement to all the irresponsible pet owners to continue being irresponsible knowing dumb goverments have funded a bigger throw money at it hostel for animals.
Lesson learned is taxpayers can benifet from a thourough municipal government that will take advantage of human nature both good and bad .The good all the volunteer help and donations being encouraged and rewarded ,the bad by anticipating and correcting inaccurate propasals and rolling up the sleeves to appoint and administer scrutiny and acountability for the taxpayers of kitimat.
Oh and one more thing
Comment by Danny Nunes on 9th March 2010
When you take away money from the surveillance cameras and remove two RCMP officers you are basically saying... animals take more priority over human beings... because at a time in Kitimat's history when things are more uncertain then ever before.... believe me you can expect an increase in crime so substantial that the costs that will come from it will in the long run... end up costing more than what will be saved... a lot more... and you are also potentially inviting tragedy & if so... then those Councillors who made these decisions... You will be held responsible and don't expect to be re-elected based on these decisions.
The Solution? Call Bob Barker
Comment by Danny Nunes on 9th March 2010
"Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered."

That's how Bob Barker ended each episode of The Price Is Right when he was host of the program.

Kitimat Council can throw thousands upon thousands of dollars at this project but until the root cause of the problem is addressed which is over population of animals in the community then they will have to keep spending more and more money to fund this jail for doggies.

If the original shelter was adequate for the community when it had a larger population... then why now when the towns got less people then ever before do we need a new and larger shelter? refer to my reference to bob barker.

If local people had done there part to control the pet population there might not be such a need now for a shelter.

When you leave problems to fester for a long period of time and think blind optimism will see you through... you may just wake up one day and have a problem so large that no amount of money can fix it.