NIAGARA COUNTY - City of Lockport Mayor Michael Tucker said he's glad things have changed at the Niagara County SPCA.
"I'm an animal lover," Tucker said. "What was going on over there was certainly very disconcerting."
He's talking about January 2012, when an investigation revealed eye-opening details about possible inhumane euthanasia -- like putting down healthy animals simply because there wasn't enough space anymore -- as well as poor record-keeping and other problems. After the scandal, cities like Lockport began to withhold payments to the SPCA, but once a new Board of Directors took control of the SPCA, many of them began to renew their relationships. Much of that stemmed from a new "No Kill" policy, which Executive Director Amy Lewis helped institute almost a year ago. Now, the Niagara County SPCA has instead begun to treat and care for more animals instead of euthanizing them.
But like just about everything, that costs money.
"The costs have skyrocketed," Lewis said.
That was the heart of a contract dispute with Niagara Falls, which was finally settled last week. The city signed a six-month agreement, but Lewis said they'll pay about $90,000 during the course of that contract-- compared to the roughly $83,000 they paid per year under the old agreements. In addition to paying more for animal care, Lewis also said the SPCA had been "grossly" underpaid by Niagara Falls over the years, claiming many of the animals they treat come from that city and it should thus contribute more money.
The contract battle even involved the courts at one point, since the SPCA threatened to end service to Niagara Falls before a restraining order disallowed it. For now, though, the city and the SPCA at least have a six-month agreement in the works. Lewis told 2 On Your Side that the Niagara County SPCA now has contract agreements with the "majority" of municipalities in the county, excluding the towns of Royalton and Wilson.
"Over time, we're going to have to look at those contracts to make sure that what we're receiving is on par with the cost," Lewis said.
Although Niagara Falls will pay more under the "No Kill" policy, Tucker said the city of Lockport actually pays less now than it used to. He said Lockport is under contract until 2015.
"We've been watching it closely," Tucker said. "We're generally happy with the way things are going."