The board of finance voted Wednesday night at its budget hearing to remove a $45,000 designation for designing a new animal shelter, much to the dismay of dozens of animal lovers in the audience.
Board member George Peteros spearheaded the charge, arguing the animal shelter committee had no information on what exactly it was looking to design, or how much the design would actually cost. Three other board members, Ron Fedor, J.W. “Bill” Sheehan and Alan Wilensky sided with Peteros; members Norman Glidden and Rosalyn Dupuis disagreed.
Peteros also expressed philosophical reasoning for cutting the allotment. On Monday, the board barely approved a $2,250 appropriation to a New London homeless shelter, yet was willing to consider a $45,000 fee just for a design of a shelter for animals, Peteros said.
The remark grew boos and jeers from a crowd of about 40 who came to support the funding. One woman shouted “(People and animals) are almost the same!” along with other comments, until the board finally restored order.
The Philosophical Disagreement
Peteros has made his point many times before in interviews with Patch that funding an animal shelter should not be the board’s top priority right now. Human needs are barely being cared for, and to spend that kind of money on “the perceived needs of animals” doesn’t make much sense, Peteros said.
“Here we are cutting social service grants to humans,” he said in an earlier interview. “Yet we are willing to fund a shelter for stray dogs who happen to cross the border?”
Conversely, the members of the animal shelter committee opposed Peteros’ take.The animal shelter is in desperate need of repair and is inhumane to the animals who live there, several argued.
“I sat in the kennels at night in the wintertime and it was … freezing,” committee member Diane Amburn said. “The dogs were shaking from the cold.”
The shelter is part of the former town hall building, and has stood since 1956. A recent report showed that of 17 codes for animal shelters, Waterford’s failed 13 of them, said Police Lt. Jeff Nixon, who supervises the animal control department.
Good causes should also not compete against each other, committee member Yvette Savoy said. There is enough kindness around to help both humans and animals, she added.
The Practical Argument
Peteros was the only board member to make a philosophical argument against funding the design for an animal shelter. The other three members who opposed the $45,000 allocation, Fedor, Wilensky and Sheehan, said the animal shelter committee was not fully prepared for any designation.
Nearly every line item on every budget in all departments has thorough “backup” explaining why the town needs that exact amount of money. The animal shelter committee provided no backup, and for that reason alone the board should oppose the allocation, Wilensky said.
The animal shelter did not have an exact figure of what the drawings would cost because it needs an account ready before it can ask an architect to develop a design, Nixon said. Peteros did not accept that explanation.
“I challenge the assertion,” he said. “I think a firm, with a high likelihood of future construction, would be happy to make a sketch and give you an idea of what you are going to need.”
Wilensky also pointed out that the shelter is the East Lyme-Waterford shelter, not just the Waterford shelter. First Selectman Dan Steward said East Lyme was willing to pay half the cost of the shelter.
However, only Waterford is creating a designation in its budget for the entire cost of the animal shelter design, instead of East Lyme and Waterford both putting up $22,500, Wilensky said.
The board said the animal shelter committee could return once it had a better idea of exactly how much the design would cost.That seemed fair, Animal Control Officer Robert Yuchniuk said.
“The committee is just in its early stages, … it’s really just a timing issue,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “We've waited since 1956 to get a new shelter, so waiting another month is no big deal.”