Anniston’s decision to tighten up some of its stray animal policies has dramatically cut the city's cost for animal control, city officials said in budget hearings Wednesday.
“We were paying $10,000 a month or more,” said Julie Borrelli, finance director for the city. “Now it's around $3,000.”
Borrelli spoke to council members Wednesday in a brief budget workshop at the Anniston City Meeting Center. The council has to pass a budget for the 2021 fiscal year by late September.
The meeting was focused on the police and fire budget, and council members found relatively little to discuss. That's largely because of uncertainty about effects of COVID-19 on next year's revenue. City officials have essentially decided to spend as much on most items in 2021 as they plan to spend this year. That leaves the police budget still at about $8 million, with total spending at $40.5 million, if the budget passes.
City officials say they have seen big change in one part of the police budget. Spending on animal control, which had skyrocketed over the past year, has dropped this summer.
In the past, the city has relied on the county animal center to house strays. County officials have long maintained that the city is the biggest source of animals housed there. The county raised its per-animal price from $100 to $150 in recent months, causing the city to look for other shelters to use. In February, the city started taking its animals to Pell City's shelter.
Then things turned around. In May, the county agreed to again reduce the per-animal price to $100. Meanwhile, Anniston tightened its policies on animals dropped off at the animal center.
The county typically charged the city when Anniston residents dropped off pets at the animal center, but this year the city demanded that people prove they're Anniston residents before dropping off animals at the city's expense.
“It was unbelievable how much we were having to pay,” Ward 4 Councilwoman Millie Harris said.
Harris also cited the possible effects of a voucher system that offsets the cost of getting pets spayed or neutered.
“People are being rewarded for getting their pets fixed,” Harris said. “It's slow, but people will come around.”
City officials said there's no plan to add police positions in the 2021 budget. Newly appointed police Chief Nick Bowles said last week that he intended to make recruiting more officers a focus of the department. Borrelli on Wednesday said the city's problem is with filling the positions that are already in the budget. Officers often leave for other police departments, she said.
Fire Chief Chris Collins told the council that COVID-19 was the fire department's biggest budget problem in 2020.
The city had to forgo the planned renovation of a fire station, he said, to help pay for pandemic-related expenses. The city spent $32,000 on personal protective equipment and disinfectant. An Anniston training center for firefighters had hosted hundreds of trainees before the pandemic started, but the pandemic put that training on hold.
Collins said he expected the city to be reimbursed for some of those costs through federal relief funds.
Council members will hear from the city's public works department, including Anniston Regional Airport, in a budget workshop Thursday.