COLUMBIA — The approval of Proposition B would require hiring additional staff at an ongoing yearly cost of more than a half-million dollars, according to Missouri Department of Agriculture officials in a state auditor's report.
Department officials also said in the December 2009 fiscal note released by the office of State Auditor Susan Montee that "the current level of funding is inadequate to meet the current level of responsibilities," and "the additional responsibilities added by the initiative petition cannot be accomplished with existing funding."
Source: Office of State Auditor Susan Montee
Proposition B is a statewide initiative that would establish new requirements for licensed dog breeders in Missouri.
But with only two weeks until the Nov. 2 election, there are still few clues as to how the initiative will be enforced if passed, if enforcement is possible at all. In a 10-month-old report, the Department of Agriculture detailed its funding shortages, but did not offer concrete enforcement plans.
The department has since declined to elaborate on the estimates in the report.
Currently, the Department of Agriculture employs 12 inspectors throughout the state, each of whom is responsible for visiting an average of 240 facilities a year. According to the Animal Care Facilities Act — the law that Proposition B will amend — every site must be inspected annually.
However, three consecutive audits of the department — in 2001, 2004, and 2008 — sharply criticized its enforcement of the law. The 2008 report noted that the department "failed to inspect 1,111 of 2,769 licensed animal care facilities" in 2006.
That means 40 percent of the facilities were not inspected in 2006 — an improvement from 2004, when about 70 percent of facilities went unvisited.
Following the 2008 audit, the department made several improvements — including conducting an internal review of policies and procedures, bringing in new management and hiring additional personnel — that have led to increased inspection rates.
The department's woes are the background to the December 2009 fiscal note. To compile fiscal notes, the auditor's office reaches out to affected government organizations for estimates of the monetary impact of each initiative.
The Department of Agriculture responded that an additional seven inspectors and one office assistant would be required by the passage of Proposition B. They also estimated significant salary, benefit and equipment costs associated with the new hires.
All told, Proposition B would require an estimated $521,326 of additional yearly funding. It would also trigger a one-time expense of more than $130,000.
For the first year, the total cost of the initiative was estimated at more than $650,000.
Conversely, the report also noted that the City of St. Louis anticipated savings of at least $200,000 if the initiative was approved. City officials said that many of the dogs confiscated in raids end up being treated and housed at the Humane Society of Eastern Missouri at an annual cost of nearly $2 million.
According to officials in the fiscal note: "Reducing the amount of excess breeding, abuse and abandonment currently occurring in puppy mills across the state is one of the most effective ways to reduce the cost to the taxpayers of the City of St. Louis for the care of unwanted and abused animals."
What the fiscal note doesn't explain is why the changes specified in Proposition B would require so many extra inspectors. However, the Department of Agriculture denied repeated requests over several weeks to interview the inspectors or anyone else involved with the enforcement of the Animal Care Facilities Act.