Mayor Karen Bass' proposed budget for the Los Angeles Animal Services department is facing pushback from city officials who want more funding for the troubled department.
Larry Gross, president of the commission that oversees Animal Services, contacted City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield last week to urge the hiring of more staff, Gross confirmed to The Times. Blumenfield chairs the city's budget committee.
Bass' budget proposed $31.7 million for Animal Services for the fiscal year starting July 1, an 18% increase over this year's budget for the department. That's far less than $42 million, or the 56% increase, requested by Animal Services.
City Council members are now reviewing Bass' spending plan.
Gross, in an interview Monday, said he told Blumenfield that a "huge number of staff" are needed.
He also pointed to two recent reports — one by former City Councilmember Paul Koretz, the other from City Controller Kenneth Mejia — that detail Animal Services' various problems, including a lack of employees.
“Everyone is concerned about this issue," Gross said. "If we don’t get the staff, what are we supposed to do?”
The Times has chronicled worsening conditions at the shelters, including inadequate care for dogs and small animals. At the same time, the department lacks volunteers who are trained to handle larger dogs, so those dogs are caged for longer periods without walks. The confinement can stress dogs, making it harder for them to be adopted and putting them on a track to be euthanized.
Blumenfield has held hearings on Bass' proposed budget for the department over the last few days.
Appearing at Monday's hearing, Annette Ramirez, Animal Services' interim general manager, told Blumenfield and other council members that Bass' proposed budget doesn't include dozens of positions sought by the department. Among other positions, Ramirez wants staff to "assist people with pet retention opportunities," such as medical care or food assistance.
Blumenfield asked city analysts for a report back on the staffing problems.
"Likely we can't fund all that, but certainly we want to understand what it is that you say would take to get there," Blumenfield said.
Bass talked up Animal Services in her State of the City address last month and thanked the volunteers who work at the shelters. She said the mayor's office is leading a nationwide search for a new Animal Services general manager.
The mayor's proposed budget for 2023-24 contains one additional regular position for the department, as well as 27 "resolution" positions, which are temporary positions that are later reassessed, said Bernyce Hollins, Bass' senior budget director.
Hollins said Bass' team budgeted a high number of resolution positions because of the expectation that a general manager will soon join the department.
"It's not necessarily that these resolution positions wouldn't be continued, but it is appropriate to allow some flexibility," Hollins said. "So if this [general manager] comes in and says, 'You know what, instead of having positions in this area, I really need them in another area.'"
At Monday's budget hearing, City Councilmember Tim McOsker asked Ramirez whether the department was searching for a volunteer coordinator.
Ramirez responded by saying that the department has a volunteer coordinator. However, she didn't mention that the coordinator, Juan Rivera, has been on administrative leave since Feb. 14. The reason for his absence hasn't been made public.
Data provided by the City Controller's office show that Rivera was paid in the most recent pay period.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.