Is City Hall screwing the pooch?
COLUMBIA, Mo 1/6/14 (Beat Byte) -- If the Columbia City Council approves two new contracts tonight with the Central Missouri Humane Society (CMHS), city government will once again short change the area's only publicly-funded provider of animal welfare services, program supporters claim. 

The contracts' one-sided terms may add impetus to a ballot initiative for a new, city-funded animal shelter

They require humane society staff to collect and remit "animal license taxes," write twice-yearly reports, and provide City Hall with "first priority" access to the entire CMHS facility, including veterinarians.     

The contracts' compensation rates are almost laughable.  For animal control officials, the city agrees to pay CMHS $100 per month for a private office, all utilities included. 

A full-time (8 am - 5 pm) veterinarian to examine, treat, vaccinate, and euthanize animals will cost the city only $1,332 per month.  The vet must also provide court testimony, microchip implantation, animal abuse consultations, and emergency, after-hours service.   

"First priority" facility use, including at least 25 kennels, animal runs, all food, cleaning, sanitation, parasite control, and specialized boarding services will cost City Hall just $9,100 per month.   That's a mere 12% increase from the city's 2008 contract, or 2% per year annualized. 

Though city government has stockpiled $143,000,000 in unrestricted cash, city administrators have also eliminated a $20,0000 spay/neuter voucher program from the CMHS contract, citing "budgetary constraints."  

Instead, city manager Mike Matthes and health department director Stephanie Browning insist City Council members pay for the program from their "Council contingency," a miniscule, off-budget emergency fund that serves as a kind of "allowance" for Columbia's seven elected Council members.   

Long criticized for failing to demand better deals from city, county, and state governments that use its services,  CMHS -- a private non-profit -- almost closed in 2008 for lack of funds, prompting a crisis the City of Columbia largely ignored.  
The CMHS board of directors -- a Who's Who of current and former public officials -- relies too heavily on private donors, critics have charged, while reluctant to insist government agencies pay their fair share

Until 2010, CMHS housed animals in a decrepit facility only remodeled after two grade-school girls, Libby Burks and Amanda Huhman, rallied the community to win a nationwide animal shelter renovation contest sponsored by ZooToo.  City of Columbia and Boone County officials had ignored repeated pleas for money to redo the building.