• Eugene Weekly Loves You!
Share |

Stomp the Helpless?

Morality left out of budget decisions

Let’s begin with the word “disingenuous.” Disingenuous means insincere, devious or false. Isn’t this really the description of the Eugene Budget Committee position “that they remain ‘animal friendly’ but merely want to provide animal services by a cheaper model.” The facts of the matter appear as follows.

The city Budget Committee has recommended a $130,000 cut in city funding to Lane County Animal Services (LCAS) for the coming year. In the past the city has provided about $500,000 to LCAS, not counting the operation of the city spay/neuter clinic, for animal services in the city and county. Thus the publicized allocation reduction is about 26 percent.    

The anecdotal word on the street is that LCAS would have to shut down without these funds because its budget is already very tight and the county is cutting its departments by about 25 percent. The city has indirectly confirmed this calamity by suggesting that they need to find a new private organization to take over city LCAS obligations (shelter and placement) by July 2012. Animal regulation enforcement (dog catching, animal cruelty, etc.) would be shifted to the Eugene Police Department, it seems. There is some talk that LCAS is already not up to par and needs significant financial transfusion.  

The city portrays the funding cut as necessary because of an expected city budget deficit. Without doubt this LCAS cut would be beneficial to the ciy Budget Committee since the $130,000 reduction causes LCAS to fail and thus the city saves the full $500,000. Is it likely that the city can find a private organization to take over the LCAS duties in a few months? As an Economist I say NO! 

The reason is that multiple private organizations most often have greater fees than a public agency because of lower economies of size. Also public agencies usually have cheaper access to financial market funds, either through taxes or tax deductible borrowing costs. Competition does not work for some services because each provider ends up with fewer customers and relatively higher per unit costs and prices. This is the case with veterinarian services as well as human medical services and hair dressing establishments.

Second, there appears to be no existing local organization that is set up to take on animal shelter and adoption services by the cut off date of July 2012. You ask, “What about Greenhill?” Well Greenhill is a private shelter and it is generally recognized that, out of economic necessity, even nonprofit private shelters generally “cherry pick” the animals they take on. Thus the more costly sick animals are doomed because they reduce funds for shelter overhead. Greenhill disagrees, but local data suggests that total animal kill rates were in the thousands per year in Eugene before LCAS attempted to become a no-kill public shelter. Do we wish to roll back the clock without adequate standards? 

The city claims that the budget shortfall requires the animal-funding cut. Of course this is nonsense because a budget, just like a shovel, is not a decision-making agent. It has no value system but instead reflects the values of its creator. In this case it is the city Budget Committee. I am sure some committee members feel comfortable because dogs and cats cannot vote. However their owners do and I doubt that local voters feel that the “American way” is to stomp on the helpless. At the least, a full, unhurried review of public animal services seems necessary. When financial times are tough, morality, not bookkeeping, should decide public budget priorities. Right living demands empathy and integrity. Call your local elected representative and tell them what you believe!