The town has established a new voucher program to track the stray animals it takes care of that are treated by the Secaucus Animal Hospital. Officials recently questioned old bills and were confused about who authorized the hospital to provide treatment for strays brought in as far back as 2010.
Until recently, the town had held off on paying $35,000 in old bills for over a year because of questions over who authorized the services. After closer inspection from the Finance Department, the town paid the bills, but not without resistance and questioning from a number of Town Council members.
Mayor Michael Gonnelli said last week that he supports the town’s investment in animal services because he believes local programs to reduce the feral cat population will ultimately increase the overall health and safety of the town. But the mayor and Town Council expect to soon review another bill from the animal hospital in the amount of $32,000. Of that amount, $16,000 is under scrutiny because of questions over authorization.
The town has deducted $10,000 from that bill until the animal hospital provides proof that the invoices actually belong to the municipality, according to Finance Director Nick Goldsack.
“It is money well-spent.” – Michael Gonnelli
The animal hospital has a contract with the municipality to spay and neuter animals and works directly with the Secaucus Animal Shelter.
Cat costs add up
Last year the municipality launched a Trap-Neuter-Release program to reduce the local feral population, which has also led to an increase in the number of cats taken to the animal hospital for treatment.
Dr. Hatch said that in the last year the animal hospital saw 285 cats, which he called a considerable increase from previous years.
Some cats were taken to the shelter by individuals who were not shelter staff but volunteers who may have been trapping on their own, or by Secaucus residents who dropped off stray cats. In other cases an individual may have said that a council member had given them the okay to take a stray cat to the hospital, according to Hatch. He said that the cats were taken in based on verbal agreement.
Some of the cats that were dropped off remained at the hospital for boarding, costing the municipality $73 per cage – a cage can house two to three cats.
Most recently, the remaining 20 to 30 municipal cats housed at the hospital were relocated back to the animal shelter. Hatch said the hospital has stepped in to board cats in the past either when the shelter was full, or most recently during an outbreak of ringworm at the shelter.
Who authorized treatment?
During a November caucus meeting, council members questioned the timing and authorization of old bills in the amount of $35,000 submitted by the hospital for services dating back to 2010. The invoices were for services provided for volunteers who have brought in animals, people who have been trapping cats, or residents with strays.
Some council members questioned who gave these individuals the authority to directly drop off animals on the town’s behalf in the first place.
“If a volunteer traps a cat, how can they bring it to the vet and say, ‘Here, this is from the town, bill the town?’” said Councilman Gary Jeffas during the caucus meeting. “How the hell does that happen? Who authorizes the care…who okays the treatment?”
“There is no justification in those bills that I can see,” said Deputy Mayor John Bueckner. “There was no control down there.”
Goldsack told the mayor and council members at the meeting that the outstanding bill should be paid after two of his team members personally went to review and assess details of all the hospital’s invoices.
Goldsack said that although the hospital was complicit in submitting the invoices, which caused the backlog, the municipality was partly to blame for the authorization issue because there wasn’t a process in place.
“Because we didn’t have any documentation on our part, we can’t turn around and not pay the doctor for saying he performed these services,” said Goldsack, referring to Dr. Hatch. “We had two individuals down there [that] went through that documentation.”
“The documentation claims…that we had the cat and we gave it to him? We got that documentation?” asked Bueckner.
“I can’t answer that,” said Goldsack.
“Of course you can’t…I don’t expect you to,” said Bueckner “Because there is no documentation that he can show us that the invoices belong to us.”
“We cannot turn around and say you have to prove to us at this point in time from 2011 that you did this work,” said Goldsack. He added that the finance team did as much as they could to ascertain that the old bills should be paid. Purchasing Agent Sandy D’arzen visited the hospital to review and assess all of the old invoices.
“They were not providing invoices,” D’arzen told the mayor and the council. “I had to do an initial mapping of what was paid and they eventually supplied me all their invoices. And I was able to do a comparative study and learned what was not paid.”
She said that after her review she concluded that they were correct in what was owed for services from previous years.
Solving the problem
The finance team has established a new voucher program that requires formal authorization from the Secaucus Animal Shelter staff for any animal brought to the hospital on behalf of the town. “What we put in place makes it much more accountable,” said Goldsack. “Not only for the town but the hospital.”
“It is money well spent,” said Gonnelli about the animal costs. He noted that the shelter volunteers have raised over $32,000 and that the municipality has collected over $7,000 in cat and dog licenses. He added that if the municipality can get the trap-neuter-release program going, in the long run it will reduce expenses for the town and get control of the feral cat population.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.