CHEYENNE – Cheyenne Animal Shelter leaders surprised City Council and staff Friday with a funding request that’s $385,000 higher than the current fiscal year.
During his fiscal year 2020 budget presentation, shelter CEO Don Kremer asked council members for $890,000, up from the $505,000 contracted amount that has remained unchanged since 2012.
The shelter, which provides the city’s animal control officers, takes in more than 5,000 cats and dogs annually.
“Over the last several months, the Cheyenne Animal Shelter board and staff have taken a close look at all facets of shelter operations, including the financial state of the shelter,” Kremer told council members. “What we learned is that we are severely underfunded, and this lack of funds permeates every aspect of the shelter.”
Kramer told council members the facility at 800 Southwest Drive is in need of roof repair, and a crematorium repair or replacement is also needed.
He also said he hopes to add a full-time animal control officer, a part-time officer and a dispatcher to the staff of around 45 shelter employees, as well as a new vehicle.
The proposed additions would bring the shelter to a total of five full-time animal control officers and one part-time officer to cover the city and Laramie County.
According to Kremer, there is no dispatch system for animal control officers.
The shelter is considered an open-intake shelter, meaning the facility takes in all animals, including wildlife, stray drop-offs, adoption returns and owner surrenders.
After the workshop, Mayor Marian Orr said she was surprised with the amount of money requested.
“I had heard rumors that the shelter was struggling financially, but I did not know about the request that was going to be made (Friday) in advance of the meeting,” Orr said. “I think we have to step back and take a look at the request for services regarding animal control. I’ve been approached by a private company that’s offering to provide animal control services for the city.”
Given the “relatively large increase in funding,” Orr said it’s “probably wise for the city to look at all options.”
Orr said that going out for bids and issuing a request for proposals, or RFP, is an option City Council members could consider.
When questioned by council members during the budget workshop, Kremer said he plans to approach Laramie County commissioners with a proposal to increase their allotment by $218,400 to a total of $410,000 annually.
Commissioner Buck Holmes said the county is in the initial stages of creating a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and it was too early in the process to make specific comments regarding any proposals.
“I think the animal shelter does a great job and does a great service for the community,” Holmes said. “We will look at it with all the other requests we have for our budget.”
Kremer told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that the shelter has also suffered from a decrease in donations.
“There has been a drop in donations nationwide,” Kremer said. “That has some reflection here ... Although we’ve lost some donors with smaller contributions, our major donors have stepped up and hedged that difference from the 51% to the 40% (of the shelter’s total budget) up a little bit.”
The shelter saw thousands of people protest last year against then-President Bob Fecht’s decision to pepper spray a young dog the day after it bit an employee. The incident resulted in Fecht’s resignation and a public relations black-eye for the shelter.
But Kremer said that incident had a “marginal” effect on donations.
He said he hoped to sit down soon with council members to come up with a budget compromise.
“We know this is a big gulp,” Kremer said. “If we can even come closer to the center line – anything they can do will be a help to us. It’s not going to change our heart, which is 100% invested in the betterment of the community and animals. Nothing’s going to change our service. We’re going to make it work somehow.”
The shelter’s total budget is about $2.4 million, according to Kremer.
The budget workshop conversation then went from animals in need to children in need.
Youth Alternatives Director Jay Sullivan presented a budget proposal for FY 2020 of $435,072, an increase of $42,168 from the previous year.
He told council members that payroll costs increased due, in part, to moving 25% of the volunteer coordinator’s position from the Youth Alternatives grants fund to the general fund. The position is responsible for coordinating the Mayor’s Youth Council.
Another increase in payroll costs, he said, is attributed to $15,000 added by hiring a part-time counselor. About $16,186 is attributed to higher workers’ compensation rates and other benefits.
Youth Alternatives is a family-centered program designed to respond to the needs of children and youth ages 5-18 and their families. The program is supported by the general fund and various local, state and federal grants reported in the city’s special revenue funds.
In the course of the budget presentation, Sullivan relayed a statistic that council members and Sullivan himself said were alarming: the agency has seen a 254% increase in children needing its suicide intervention services since 2016.
Another statistic most would find astounding: The average age of those students is 12.
“We often get calls through our crisis line,” Sullivan said. “We also get direct school referrals if they encounter a youth in the course of a school day that might be expressing suicide ideation. The youth can come over to the office with the parents, and we’ll do a suicide evaluation on that youth.”
Sullivan said a decision is made after the assessment as to what is the most necessary and appropriate protective service for the child.
The agency’s 24-hour crisis line is 307-637-6480. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-8255.
Now that the initial budget presentations have concluded, Councilman Jeff White said the next step is deliberations and meetings that will take place later this month with the full council, also known as the Committee of the Whole.
“At those meetings, we’ll entertain public comment and have full discussion on the part of the public and members of the governing body,” White said. “There’s a lot of information to consider. The presentations were professional and well done.”
The city has provided live-streaming of all of the workshops on its Facebook page.