Humane Society, Zoo explain need for increased city funding

By Terry LehrkeNews Editor

The Pine Grove Zoo and Morrison County Animal Humane Society (MCAHS) had some explaining to do Monday.

They were asked to explain during the Little Falls City Council work session, why they had requested more funding than last year, and in the case of the MCAHS, more than double.

The Little Falls City Council had requested Little Falls city staff, departments and other city-funded organizations to submit budgets for 2013 that stayed as close as possible to 2012 figures, to keep the city’s budget and its levy as low as possible.

The request from the Pine Grove Zoo was $5,000 above its 2012 $110,000 request, although the Council approved $100,000 of that.

The MCAHS more than doubled its request for 2013 at $31,500, compared to $15,600 in 2012.

The reasons?

Pine Grove Zoo Director Marnita Van Hoecke said the costs of grain, meat and freight in feed for the animals has risen $13,000. Costs for utilities, communication, employees and motor fuel have gone up as well.

Volunteers donate many hours at the zoo (more than 1,600 to-date), and welcomed 37,000 visitors this year, said Van Hoecke.

When she started working at the zoo, it had 45 memberships. Today, she said, there are 300 memberships that include more than 1,200 members.

Van Hoecke said staff is working to train the animals so that a veterinarian isn’t needed to administer vaccinations, although a team of veterinarians works with the zoo. The practices being used creates less stress for the animals, and for the staff, she said.

The Zoo continues to work toward Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accreditation, still needing a carnivore building. “That’s not a cheap building,” said Van Hoecke.

But with AZA accreditation, comes the possibility of procuring grants for funding.

The Zoo this year purchased an automated external defibrillator (AED), at a cost of $1,615.44; spent $5,305.69 on marketing and $1,054.98 on exhibit improvements.

It will also purchase the city’s used Jacobsen mower for $3,000 “as is,” since the Zoo’s mower is on its last legs. The Council agreed that half could be paid now and half in the spring (May 1).

“I thank you for your continuing support of the zoo,” Van Hoecke told the Council. “You don’t get to hear on a daily basis how happy visitors are with it.”

Council Member Don Klinker, who volunteers at the Zoo, concurred. “Everyone who comes through has only good things to say,” he said.

As far as the MCAHS request, it is making improvements to its building on Seventh Street Northeast, on the other side of the parking lot from City Hall.

The improvements are necessary for overall animal health, said MCAHS Executive Director Connie Bursey and President Rose Surma.

The MCAHS is also working toward getting 100 percent of its animals spayed or neutered before they are adopted and before their first litter. That, they said, can be an issue when a pet is adopted, but the new litter comes back to the shelter.

But the biggest reason for the request for increase in funding from the city, is that more than half of the animals come from the city, the women said.

The MCAHS is working on its budget for 2013 and has a deficit.

The report showed that the shelter took in $137,750 in 2012, but paid out $166,400, a deficit of $28,650.

“We are working on why we are spending and what can be raised through fundraisers and grants,” said Surma.

If the MCAHS receives the requested $31,500, its 2013 budget will show a net income of $500 after all expenses are paid.

The MCAHS is also working to reduce the amount of time animals stay in the shelter, with a target of 30 percent less time.

The report on costs to keep an animal ($299.25 for a dog and $285.25 for a cat) reflect only a seven-day stay. However, Surma said, the average stay is significantly longer for an animal.

To help reduce the amount of time spent at the shelter, MCAHS has been working to increase adoptions through advertising and promotion initiatives and is working to increase its membership and donations in the community, including a sponsorship program for individuals and businesses.

The remodeling at the shelter includes the creation of a lobby store area, another stream of revenue. Adopters and other members of the public can purchase pet food, training materials, leashes, collars and more.

To reduce the cost of spay/neutering of pets, and to be able to get to the 100 percent goal, the MCAHS plans to seek grants for the program. A mobile spay/neuter clinic also visits Little Falls, and the plan is to host the mobile clinic more often, to give the public access to low-cost spaying/neutering of their pets.

The city has $15,600 allotted for the MCAHS in its current budget.

“I know we’re asking for a big raise, but we made a realistic projection,” said Surma. “We’re asking for a reasonable amount based on the amount of animals we get from the city.”

The Council is expected to make its decision about the requests at its Monday, Dec. 3 meeting.

Little Falls City Council Briefs

In other business Monday, the Council:

• Approved an amendment of Traut Wells’ quote for the additional time and materials for the rehabilitation of Well 4, by $7,029.50. Once the work was started, the company found an 8-inch Flexi-hinge check valve needed to be replaced as well as 136 feet of 1-inch PVC sound tube, which had not been part of the bid;

• Authorized advertising for bids for a generator for lift station 2, with required switches and related work and to bid the critical muffler as an option for the generator;

• Called for a public hearing on the final assessment roll for complete grading, water mains, water service lines on Fifth Street Northeast between Seventh Avenue Northeast. It will be held Monday, Dec. 17, at 7:30 p.m. Approximately $15,125 will be assessed against affected property owners; and

• Received a petition to be annexed into the city from David and Rachel Edgerton, who recently purchased a home on Riverwood Drive.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting will be held Monday, Dec. 3, at City Hall, at 7:30 p.m. A work session begins at 6:30 p.m. in the conference room.