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Published: 9/30/2010

Dog warden's budget draws candidates' ire

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Local politicians were snapping at each other Thursday over the latest money controversies involving the Lucas County Dog Warden's budget.

Toledo City Councilman George Sarantou, a Republican running for Lucas County commissioner, tore into a set of budget projections given this week to members of a citizen-led advisory committee.

That document shows the balance of the warden's “Dog and Kennel Fund” falling from its August peak of $1.3 million to $35,777 by the end of 2012 if several proposed improvements are made.

But county officials admit to using a unique “conservative” methodology to get those projections: ignoring future surpluses yet counting future expenses.

For Mr. Sarantou, who chairs City Council's finance committee, such methodology is tantamount to using “smoke and mirrors.”

He called on the county commissioners to redo the projections, and failing that step, to have an outside audit of the dog warden department.

“I think it's very, very deceitful what was presented [Wednesday],” Mr. Sarantou said at a news conference outside the county pound. “When you leave out revenue on a balance sheet, it's very misleading … It is this kind of an issue that blows taxpayer trust — in all forms of government — right the heck out of the water.”

He said the problem is not the county's new dog warden, Julie Lyle.

“She is doing a good job. It's not her — it's the higher-ups,” Mr. Sarantou said.

His Democratic opponent in the commissioners race, Carol Contrada, a Sylvania Township trustee, said she reviewed the dog warden budget and took issue with statements by Administrator Pete Ujvagi that the kennel fund balance — about $900,000 in January and now bigger — isn't really a surplus.

“It's quite obvious that there's a projected surplus, and to call it something else is just incorrect,” she said.

The projections were done at the request of Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, a Democrat.

In an interview, Ms. Wozniak would not address Mr. Sarantou's criticisms about how the projections were done, but said her goal was seeing how the department's budget would accommodate the new hiring and building improvements suggested by Ms. Lyle.

“I am more than happy to talk to either of the two commissioner candidates and share with them how it was done, and if they continue to have questions, we'll do everything we can do answer those,” Ms. Wozniak said.

The issue of dogs also became campaign fodder in the county auditor's race, in which Republican Gina-Marie Kaczala is vying to unseat Democrat Anita Lopez.

Ms. Kaczala announced that if elected, she will stop using money from the kennel fund to pay the auditor office's expenses related to dog licenses.

Ms. Lopez has used $32,202 of kennel fund money to finance the current year's licensing campaign, according to county records.

“That money should only be used to take care of the dogs in a humane manner,” said Mrs. Kaczala, widow of former county auditor Larry Kaczala.

By law, county auditors are responsible for issuing dog licenses and collecting the fees. State law also allows kennel fund money to be used for the auditor's dog license work.

Mrs. Kaczala said she would start financing the license work from the auditor department's own budget. “One hundred percent of the dog licensing money should go to take care of the dogs — period,” she said.

Ms. Lopez defended her dip into the kennel fund, saying it is standard practice by county auditors across the state.

“We are following the guidelines that have been laid out by law,” she said, adding that residents will be paying one way or the other regardless of which account the expense is drawn from.

Ms. Lopez also noted her original stance against the 2007 dog license fee increase from $20 to $25, and her suggestions that the dog warden department streamline its operations and become “paperless” like the auditor's office, a move that saves money.

The real issue, Ms. Lopez said, is whether the county really needed the latest fee increase in light of the growing surplus.

Contact JC Reindl at: jreindl@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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