Some wary of UI's offer to help fund Iowa City animal shelter

BY ELISE DILGER | MARCH 21, 2012 6:30 AM

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University of Iowa officials have offered monetary support for a new Iowa City animal shelter, though the decision has prompted some confusion from local residents.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said the university made the decision after city officials said the UI would be required to pay additional fees for any stray animals the shelter found on the campus and brought into the facility. The UI will contribute $7,216 toward the new facility. The building would replace the old shelter, which was damaged in the 2008 floods.

However, some residents are still skeptical about the funding decision.

"The question is, what is it the University of Iowa should be spending its money on?" said Deborah Thornton, a research analyst for the Public Policy Institute. "It needs to be careful if it is using the tax and tuition money for this shelter."

Iowa City and shelter officials announced the estimated $4 million cost would be reduced to $3 million at a City Council meeting on Tuesday. The cost will be split between $1.6 million in FEMA funding and $2.6 million from surrounding cities and entities.

Moore said the contribution is based on past costs for stray animals brought to the city's temporary animal shelter from university grounds between 2009 and 2011. He said the specific number of stray animals typically found on campus was not available.

"If we said 'no,' we would be responsible for those animals, which would cost us a lot more," he wrote in an email. "There simply is no other alternative."

The decision to go ahead with the funding was made by officials in the UI Finance and Operations Department and the UI Public Safety Department.

The UI's shelter funding will likely come through UI public-safety funds, which receives money from campus-wide sources such as residence halls, athletics, and health care, Moore said.

"The precise source of the funding is not yet determined," he wrote in an email. "But the assessment is likely to be paid through funds allocated to UI public safety."

Thornton said she would be concerned if the UI took the funding from a source used to educate students.

"Use the money for which it is intended," she said. "This money is to be used to educate the students enrolled at the University of Iowa. Yes, there are occasional animal issues in Iowa City. But are there enough on campus to have the UI use money to build this shelter?"

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors have also been asked to contribute to the shelter; the supervisors have not decided yet whether to offer funds. Supervisor Janelle Rettig took a more favorable view on the UI's involvement.

"Although this is not a Johnson County animal shelter I still think it would be great for the university to help out with the funding of the shelter," Rettig said.

Moore also said the UI was trying to contribute to the community by participating in the funding.

"The university is doing its fair share to deal with the unrestrained animals," he said.

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