CARA/Animal Services Board in No-Win Situation

Photo of Shelter as of August 2015.

The toughest, most thankless job in parish government is the appointive position of Animals Service Board (ASB) member.  Six hearty souls, along with a sitting Council member, comprise ASB’s membership without much in the way of direction from the Parish Council.  ASB faces a near impossible task without appreciable support, and minimal participation, from the Council which retains ultimate authority over every expenditure made from the dedicated tax revenue generated by a one-mill, parish-wide tax.

The Board was created on October 3, 2019 by adding Section 5-36 to the general Animal Control ordinance that came into being on February 20, 2002.

(a) Purpose. The purpose of the Ascension Parish Animal Services Board (hereinafter the ASB) is to provide oversight, management, advice, recommendations, financial and operations reports, and presentations to the parish council and administration on matters involving animal services and related issues in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. The ASB will have fiduciary responsibility for the Ascension Parish Animal Services Department and ensure animal tax dollars are appropriately spent.

NOTE:  Nowhere is an Animal Shelter, existing or to be constructed in the future, mentioned.

With no dedicated funding for 17 years, a six-figure facility would be constructed on Airline Hwy in Sorrento (see above) in the early 2000s.  The 2.6 acres upon which it sits was purchased for $35,000.  By the mid-2010s the “animal shelter” would be harshly criticized, a certain Prairieville councilman even likening it to WW II-era Nazi death camps when the “kill ratio” approached 80%.

Eventually, the opposition would coalesce around Companion Animal Rescue of Ascension (CARA), a Non-Profit Corporation formed in 2012.  After multiple committee and public information meetings, a unanimous council approved (September 17, 2015)…

“a ten-year agreement that states CARA will oversee the Animal Shelter. The Parish will continue to pick up dangerous and vicious dogs. CARA will keep adoption and tag fees and the Parish will contribute $200,000 annually.”

That amount would prove woefully inadequate and, after numerous council and council committee meetings, funding would be increased to $350,000 via an 8-3 vote of the Parish Council on October 19, 2017.  Included in the deliberations at that meeting was Councilman Aaron Lawler’s advise to CARA:

“I’m got to make a strong request to CARA, that y’all come to us within the next 45 days, to come up with a long-term plan for funding…that’s going to include the Animal Shelter, that’s going to include Animal Control and we’ll work together on this.”

Notably, Lawler’s recommendation did not focus upon a new Animal Shelter and nothing that transpired thereafter would either.

Eight months went by before the Council took up the long-term funding issue, Ascension’s Bond Counsel presenting requisite details around a potential property tax on June 21, 2018.  Then the District 9 representative, Todd Lambert stressed that CARA urged the one-mill Ad Valorem assessment be placed on the ballot, and not the governing authority.  CARA, according to then Council Chairman Bill Dawson, had no guarantee of continued operation of the existing shelter and no authority over future revenues realized from the proposed property tax.

A no-win situation for CARA, whose Vice President Jolie Culpepper was invited to speak during that council meeting.

“This council is the one that instructed us to go after this tax,” Culpepper explained.  “The Council presented us with bringing this back to y’all in the form of a permanent tax to fund all animal services in the parish.  It’s not specifically for the animal shelter or CARA’s House.  This is for all animal services within Ascension Parish whether CARA’s House is running the shelter or not.”

Anticipated to generate $1.2 million annually, a substantial underestimate as it turned out, three years later one parish-wide mill would be worth $1.7 million.  But not one dollar was dedicated to building a new shelter, a widespread misconception held by the 6,398 voters who supported the tax in a 16.4% turnout election on December 8, 2018.

Not even the council’s most rabid supporter, District 4’s Daniel “Doc” Satterlee, believed otherwise.  Lamenting the lack of dedicated funding as total operational (shelter and Animal Control) cost settled in between $7-800,000 annually, a hopeful Satterlee  lobbied for the tax hoping for…

“Potentially, the ability to bond some of this money and build a modern-day facility besides that terrible facility that’s out there in Sorrento.”

Unfortunately for Ascension’s animal rights contingent, Satterlee was among the membership turned out of office on October 12, 2019 in an anti-incumbency wave.  A minority of the membership (five) would be reseated on Inauguration Day in 2020, none having championed CARA’s mission with anything like the zeal that Doc Satterlee brought to the effort.

Council to consider $550,000 purchase of 6.24 acres for new Animal Shelter

Anticipating collection of the inaugural revenue, the Council adopted the Animal Services Board Bylaws on October 3, 2019 (see above for stated purpose).   ASB’s statutory Vision & Mission:

The vision of the ASB is that someday all citizens, their property and their neighborhoods will be safe from the dangers and nuisances of irresponsible pet ownership, that someday: animals will not suffer because of human abuse, neglect or ignorance, and that every pet born will have a good home and proper care all its natural life. In keeping with our vision, our mission is to balance the health, safety and welfare needs of people and animals in Ascension Parish by;

  • Protecting the rights of people from dangers and nuisances caused by uncontrolled animals
  • Ensuring the legal protection of animals from mistreatment
  • Promoting, motivating and enforcing responsible pet ownership
  • Being good stewards of the Animal Tax revenues of Ascension Parish

Operation. The board shall be responsible for oversight of the rules and regulations for operation of the facilities including consultation with organizations under contract for animal services with the parish. The rules and regulations shall be submitted to the council for ratification.

The ASB may periodically review the parish’s animal services ordinances and make appropriate recommendations for amendments to the council. The ASB shall be held responsible for the care and maintenance of the buildings and equipment used for animal services in the parish. The ASB shall be responsible for establishing its annual budget following established guidelines by parish government.

NOTE:  Again, nary a mention of an “Animal Shelter.”

With minimal statutory direction, and none from Ascension’s governing authority which retains the final say so, the Animal Services Board is placed in an impossible situation.  So is CARA.