State audit pans Hempstead animal shelter

This American Staffordshire terrier was waiting to be This American Staffordshire terrier was waiting to be adopted from the Town of Hempstead Animal shelter in Wantagh on Jan. 26, 2011. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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The Hempstead Town Animal Shelter has spent more money than other town shelters, improperly managed overtime, and kept shoddy records, according to a state comptroller audit issued Friday.

"Our audit has shed much-needed light on several of the problems that plague the operation of this facility," state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said.

The report on the shelter's financial operations was in response to requests from hundreds of town residents and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, DiNapoli said.

In the past two years, animal advocates have accused the shelter of mistreating animals, and the district attorney's office and other groups have investigated the facility's operations.

The state audit shows Hempstead's shelter is "a case study in mismanagement, poor record-keeping and budgetary incompetence," Rice said.

Her office's investigation found no criminal abuse or neglect of animals, Rice said. The investigation revealed poor record-keeping for veterinary care expenditures and donations, and "an inexplicable pattern of overtime for non-operations personnel," Assistant District Attorney Jed Painter said.

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Town officials disputed some of the audit's conclusions, spokesman Michael Deery said, adding, "We have reviewed the findings and have acted on the recommendations."

State auditors found operational costs at the Hempstead shelter were far higher overall than in Islip and Brookhaven. A Newsday investigation last year found nine of the department's 29 full-time employees made more than $100,000 in 2010, and eight of them had ties to the Republican Party, which controls town government.

Diane Madden, an animal advocate banned from the shelter after making claims of animal abuse, urged the creation of a public oversight committee "to ensure the money is used for the care of the animals."

Auditors found the shelter's costs were funded solely by taxpayers living in unincorporated areas, who as a result were overcharged about $17.5 million over five years. Town officials should have used the townwide general fund, which gets property taxes from the entire town, including the villages, the audit stated.

The general fund inappropriately charged the shelter $3.5 million in 2010 and $2.6 million in 2011 for work done by other town departments on its behalf. That also left the shelter unable to determine whether it was being overcharged or undercharged for those services.

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"The audit showed budgetary incompetence. That's what I have been saying all along," said Felix Procacci, who filed a lawsuit against the town in September for not responding to requests for information.

Town officials said their accounting practices have existed since 1995 and the comptroller has accepted their annual report "without any comment or noted exception." They added village residents paid toward operating costs via animal control service contracts with the villages.

The audit also found the shelter lacked procedures to manage overtime. The town paid $359,408 for 8,860 hours in overtime from 2007 to 2011, but the hours could not be "adequately justified," the audit said.

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