The math doesn't add up in the Humane Society's request for additional funding from Marathon County.
The Marathon County Humane Society could use some lessons in finesse.
In the time I spent as a budget analyst in Madison, I saw a number of lobbying strategies. One was to ask for more money than you need, to be tenacious and to finally "compromise" down to the amount you wanted in the first place.
Right now, Marathon County pays the Humane Society $132,000 per year to provide up to seven days of impoundment services for lost or stray animals. MCHS is now asking the county to add $168,000 and round the annual sum up to $300,000.
The trick to this strategy is that the request has to be plausible.
In its most recent year-end financial statement, MCHS reported total annual expenses of $551,800. That means the actual cost of operating the shelter was $1,512 per day. With 80 or so pets in the shelter at any given time, we can calculate the cost per pet per day to be $19.
Earlier this month, MCHS staff testified before county committees that it took in 1,421 strays last year, and these animals stayed, on average, for five days. That's 7,105 bed days for "government animals." At $19 per day, the cost of housing those animals comes to $135,000.
Let's look at it another way. If we divide 7,105 bed days by 365 days, we get the average daily census. So, there are about 19.5 strays in the shelter on any given day. MCHS would appear to be claiming that "government animals" which make up 25 percent of the shelter population cause 50 percent to 60 percent of its costs.
The numbers just don't add up.
Look, I am not writing this to make light of the Humane Society's concerns. I agree that animal control policy has been neglected and that we probably should put more money into sheltering. Rather, I want to suggest that there is a better way to solve these problems that by playing "budget chicken."
The county, MCHS and the municipalities need to work together on comprehensive solutions.
For example, Wausau and Weston account for about 70% of the county's 1,950 animal complaint calls annually. Wausau and Weston have collaborated to purchase PetData, an on-line pet licensing service. But the service is not just for licensing.
The PetData database stores information about a pet's breed, coloring, age and weight. The database can be easily searched by any public official with a web-enabled device. It's a quick way to identify a short list of potential owners for any lost pet.
That capability is the number one reason why Wausau and Weston residents should remember to license their pets. The registry significantly increases the chances that a lost pet will be returned home quickly.
Now imagine if just a few more of the county's large municipalities joined in the on-line registry. We could make a huge dent in bed days that lost animals spend in the shelter.
Remember also, increased pet licenses generate more revenue for the county to pass through to MCHS. That's another good reason why people should remember to license their pets.
Together, we can develop some great public policy. I urge the county and MCHS to bring the municipalities to the table and talk before any further resource decision are made.