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Smithtown seeks proposals to lower animal shelter costs

The Smithtown Animal Shelter has annual costs of

The Smithtown Animal Shelter has annual costs of $650,000 to $750,000. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Smithtown officials, seeking lower costs and better services, will solicit proposals from private groups to manage the town animal shelter.

Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said in an interview that the move was “exploratory” and that the town council had not committed to outsourcing. He and other officials, including Councilman Tom Lohmann, said they want to see if the move could lower costs at the shelter, which typically hosts a few dozen cats and dogs at a yearly cost of from $650,000 to $750,000. Officials will “see if we can attract companies or businesses that this is what they do, care for animals and find homes through adoption,” said Lohmann.

But Public Safety Director John Valentine, who now oversees the shelter, criticized the request for proposals as “inappropriate.” His staff already meets with private and public groups outside the town to keep current with best shelter practices and has “worked tirelessly to modernize and make that shelter what it is today,” he said. Outsourcing is “just not the way to do this,” he said.

Wehrheim said that any replacement would be “professional in care and handling of all these animals” and “economically viable for the taxpayer.” The nine town employees who now work full time at the shelter would keep their jobs under any outsourcing deal, he said.

The 4-1 town council vote Tuesday calls for groups to submit proposals by Sept. 6. Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo, the council’s shelter liaison, voted against the measure. In a statement provided by a spokeswoman, she said she wanted more time to “discuss the idea with the experts first or in a work session with the board.”

There is some precedent on Long Island for outside management of municipal facilities. Southold, Southampton, and Riverhead have explored or entered into partnerships with private partners to run their animal shelters. Hempstead issued a request for qualifications for privatization of animal shelter functions earlier this year but got no respondents.

Brookhaven, Huntington, Hempstead, North Hempstead and Smithtown use or have used private management at municipal golf courses.

The Smithtown shelter, parts of which date to the 1960s, has a troubled history. Valentine's duties were broadened last year to take over management of the shelter from then-director Sue Hansen. Hansen was fired after a town investigation found the shelter was chaotic and filthy, though her supporters said she improved animal care in difficult conditions with little support. Animal advocates had also blamed George Beatty, whom Hansen replaced, for mismanagement.

John Urbancik, a Smithtown resident and animal advocate who has criticized the town’s oversight in the past, said that while there are several nonprofit rescue organizations on Long Island with the expertise to step in, most would be hard-pressed to fund some services, such as in-house veterinary care, which the town provides now.

He said reaction was likely to be divided in the small but dedicated community of residents who volunteer at the shelter and avidly follow developments there.

“You’re never going to please everybody,” Urbancik said, “and the people you don’t please, they’re going to be the ones that are loud.”

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