Lawrence Humane Society concerned about city’s proposed budget cut

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A city proposal to cut its portion of funding for the Lawrence Humane Society by about 27% has sparked worry from the organization’s staff about how the cut could affect their ability to care for local pets.

The proposal — which is part of a broader budget recommendation that includes cuts in other areas as well — would result in a $100,000 reduction in the funding the city gives the Humane Society each year. The Lawrence City Commission will review the budget at its meeting on Tuesday.

Elina Alterman, the Humane Society’s director of development and communications, described the proposed cuts as “distressing” and a “significant blow.” The Humane Society has received $365,000 annually from the city since 2019. 

The organization’s overall annual budget for 2020 was about $2.36 million, according to federal tax filings. It brought in nearly $3.2 million in revenue that year, including donations, grants, events, and adoption fees, plus the city’s contribution, which constituted about 11.2% of its total revenue.

The Humane Society provides a wide array of pet-related assistance to Lawrence and the rest of Douglas County, including veterinary services, housing, animal adoption, and its Crisis Pet Retention Program, which provides supplies and aims to help owners keep their pets rather than surrender them in times of financial hardship. 

The city budget proposal lists a cut to animal control services. In 2018, the Humane Society entered into an agreement with the city: the organization would take in and care for all animals from animal control officers and the public, as well as have staff on call 24/7 to assist the city.

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Alterman said the Humane Society fears the proposed cut in city funding could force the organization to curtail some services. “Reducing veterinary clinic equipment, daily operating supplies and staffing would be detrimental to an organization that is caring for over 5,000 animals per year and an already over-extended staff whose jobs are both physically and emotionally taxing,” she said.

“… The proposed reduction in the city’s support of Lawrence Humane does not reflect a reduction in the need for services provided by Lawrence Humane,” she said. “This need has stayed consistent for the last seven years.”

The city wants to reduce funding to the Humane Society, close Prairie Park Nature Center and eliminate two vacant positions to make funds available for other things, such as increased funding to the city’s economic development program, IT infrastructure, cybersecurity and an accountant position. 

“As a result of these reductions, the City is able to recommend reprioritizing resources to other strategic priorities for 2023,” according to City Manager Craig Owens’ budget proposal, which shows total expenditures of about $436.78 million.

Alterman encouraged residents to voice their opinions on the issue.

“Such a decision will impact our community in ways that we do not believe that Lawrence residents support or want, and we encourage community members to make their voices heard,” she said.

The Lawrence City Commission will hold a joint meeting with the Douglas County Commission at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 12, and will begin its regular meeting at 5:45 p.m. See the full budget proposal at this link and the full meeting agenda at this link. Meetings are livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel and in person at Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

The commission accepts public comment in writing — comments must be received by noon the day of the meeting at — and during meetings in person and virtually. Register to join the Zoom meeting at this link.

The city is also accepting comments on the budget via a Lawrence Listens form. That’s available at this link.

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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