Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 14 December 2012 00:00
Costs, record keeping, overtime pay and administrative blunders are the major issues dominating the recently released audit of the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter. After requests by residents, animal activists, former shelter volunteers, and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, an investigation was ordered.
The shelter’s operating budget has been under much scrutiny compared to neighboring shelters. It functioned with an $8.8 million budget in 2012 and according to the audit.
DiNapoli’s office examined a fiscal period of Jan. 1, 2010 to Sept. 30, 2011, but later expanded its scope to 2007 through 2009. The audit found that operation costs exceeded other shelters, like Islip and Brookhaven, which are similar in size. Total cost per animal in at the Hempstead location was $1,916; a dollar amount town officials are disputing.
“The review did indicate that shelter operations should be included in the general fund of the town’s budget as opposed to the part-town fund,” Hempstead said in a statement. “The town has implemented that change. The audit also addressed the cost of operations.”
Since 2010, the animal shelter has been under a watchful eye to due to alleged animal abuse and an ongoing lawsuit by former shelter volunteers. The audit read that the town improperly accounted for and reported the shelter’s financial activities in “the town-outside-village fund, resulting in town-outside-village taxpayers being overcharged approximately $12.7 million over the last five years.”
“First and foremost, it is important to note that the report did not indicate any findings of mistreatment or substandard care of animals at the shelter,” the town said.
The audit noted further that administrative costs charged to departments did not reflect the actual services received. Town officials noted that in implementing the comptroller’s accounting methodology, the 2013 town budget reflects a $3.37 million reduction in the animal shelter’s budget.
“The shelter’s finances and animal care issues have long been a concern of town residents,” said DiNapoli in a statement. “Our audit has shed much-needed light on several of the problems that plague the operation of this facility. The shelter’s finances need to be more closely scrutinized to ensure that animals receive proper care and taxpayers aren’t paying excessive costs.”
Rice confirmed that the issues plaguing the shelter are a case of financial mismanagement and “do not rise to the level of criminality.” The audit further read that it found no neglect to the animals at the shelter.
“The comptroller’s review found systemic problems that compromise the public’s confidence and could detract from the shelter’s overall mission and responsibility to its animals and the community,” Rice stated. “While our investigation found no criminal abuse or neglect of the shelter’s animals, both the animals and taxpayers will be well-served if the town promptly adopts the comptroller’s recommendations.”
The audit revealed the general fund “inappropriately charged” the shelter $3.5 million in 2010 and $2.6 million in 2011 for administrative charges. Furthermore, state officials found that shelter costs were on the taxpayers back entirely over five years to the tune of $17.5 million.
“The administrative costs charged to departments did not reflect the actual services received,” the audit said.
The shelter, according to the audit, did not have proper procedures to monitor overtime worked by its employees. The town paid $359,408 for 8,860 hours of overtime over a four-year span to 2011.
According to the town, they have taken steps to address DiNapoli’s recommendations in cost control and operational oversight.