PORT ANGELES — Animal activists growled Tuesday night, and City Council members said they will consider restoring full funding for animal welfare to the 2016 budget.
At least five of the seven council members — Sissi Bruch, Patrick Downie, Cherie Kidd, Lee Whetham and Mayor Dan Di Guilio — agreed to ask staff to juggle numbers to find a way to return $22,000 to the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society.
The preliminary 2016 budget had proposed giving the humane society $43,000.
The city had set out an annual allocation of $65,000 for 2016 and 2017 in a pact it signed last December.
The council will consider a final decision at its Dec. 1 session.
About two dozen society supporters attended Tuesday’s council meeting, with about half of them speaking to urge restoration of the agreement.
Several council members agreed, citing a concern that the council live up to its promises.
Councilmen Brad Collins and Dan Gase cautioned against tinkering with the draft budget so late in the year.
“We can’t start dismantling the budget at this point,” Collins said.
Gase called the proposed change “a knee-jerk reaction after all that planning to make us feel good.”
City Attorney Bill Bloor said the agreement with the society wasn’t a contract that would be breached but an arrangement that could be adjusted if the city lacked funds to fulfill it.
However, Kidd said, “They [the society] took that to the bank. It’s ethical that we live up to our agreements.
“When you sign a contract, that’s your word. That’s your honor.”
Whetham said, “I don’t see supporting this budget without the humane society’s receiving the full amount we had agreed to.
“Are we going back on something that we’ve agreed to with all these groups?”
The Feiro Marine Life Center, United Way of Clallam County, Port Angeles Fine Arts Center and city youth and family recreation programs all would lose money from cuts that city administrators say are needed to balance the $109.7 million budget for 2016.
City officials faced a $940,000 shortfall in August, the majority of which consisted of $660,000 in lost electric tax revenue from Nippon Paper Industries USA, City Manager Dan McKeen said then.
Nippon consumed 60 percent of power citywide before shutting down one of two paper mill runs.
A public priority-setting process started almost a year ago and concluded in June.
Public safety was rated the top priority. The lowest priority was funding for outside agencies.
Mary Beth Wegener, humane society executive director, was delighted with the council’s actions Tuesday.
“We’re very encouraged and pleased that we were able to make a point that resonated with City Council,” she said Wednesday, “what we believe the city is obligated to do under their own city code.”
The humane society does not provide animal control within the city — a service the city eliminated 10 years ago — but furnishes sheltering services “to rehabilitate the animals that come into our care or reunite them with their owners.”
They include lost, stray, abandoned and abused dogs, cats and other domestic animals.
People testifying on the city budget filled council chambers to standing room only — except for avoiding the front row.
They included Betty Anderson of Port Angeles, who spoke of finding frozen kittens abandoned near her home.
One man who said he had adopted a dog from the society commented — as lights flickered during Tuesday’s power outages — “The way the weather has been, it would be pretty hard to be a lost dog.”
Sandra Miller of Port Angeles asked council members, “What [city] department do you want to take the next box of kitties or group of dangerous dogs?”
Miller drew laughter from council members and the audience when she said the city might consider funding the humane society with money it might pay to continue fluoridating city water.
The current cost of fluoridating water is $19,900 a year.
The council will discuss the fluoridation issue Dec. 15 after tabulating an advisory survey of water users and must decide by May 18 whether to continue fluoridation.
In other action Tuesday, the council approved a $55,172 change order in the Georgiana Street Sewer and Stormwater Improvements.
It was required when relocating the lines around Olympic Medical Center’s new medical office building encountered clayey soil that collapsed beside the new trench.
The increase was paid for with wastewater fund reserves, said Craig Fulton, city engineer.
Reporter James Casey can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at [email protected]