Butte animal shelter given $101,505 donation

John and Patti Armstrong of Helena tour the Chelsea Bailey Butte-Silver Bow Animal Shelter with shelter manager Jacki Casagranda, center, Nov. 30 after delivering a check for $101,505 their friend left the facility in his will.

Butte-Silver Bow officials have scrapped a proposal to use about half of a $101,500 donation to the animal shelter on two new trucks – a plan that drew frowns from executors who delivered the money.

Chief Executive Dave Palmer says the county now intends to put all of the donation toward the shelter itself and no money will be used on vehicles.

“We will keep it for the animals,” Palmer said late Wednesday night following a Council of Commissioners meeting.

That was good news to John and Patti Armstrong of Helena, who delivered a check for the donation to the shelter on Nov. 30. Palmer called and talked to them Tuesday.

“They said they will keep us in the loop now that we have expressed our concerns,” Patti Armstrong said Wednesday.

Their friend George Huston, who died last March, put provisions in his will giving part of his estate to the animal shelters in Butte and Helena. He and his wife Dorothy were lifelong animal lovers and had adopted pets from both shelters. Dorothy died in 2010.

The donations ended up being about $101,500 each, but the will did not specify how the money was to be used other than for overall care of the animals.

Under an original plan by Butte officials, about half the money would be used to upgrade kennels at the shelter and make other improvements inside and outside of the building.

Ed Randall, director of Animal Services, proposed using the other half to buy two new animal control trucks. The current ones have more than 200,000 miles on them and need increasing repairs, he said, and they believed they could get new trucks for $26,000 each.

Palmer had endorsed the plan, although he and Randall both said that upgrading the shelter itself was priority one.

Both also said they view animal control and the shelter as one responsibility and service, and Randall said needed shelter upgrades and the new trucks were probably affordable under the single $101,500 donation.

The Armstrongs do see a difference between animal control and animal care and want the vast majority of the funds spent on the shelter itself. That’s what Huston would have wanted, they said.

County officials had set a public hearing on their original proposal for Feb. 7, but they canceled that this week. To spend the money, a public hearing is required, and commissioners have to sign off on any plan.

Palmer said they had “put the cart before the horse,” in part by crafting a rough plan without input from the Animal Services Board. The issue is now to be discussed when the board meets Thursday evening, he said.

The Armstrongs said they hadn’t heard from county officials since Nov. 30 when they dropped the check off. Palmer said he fully intended to call them before any public hearing and did that Tuesday.

“I talked to them and thanked them, for one, for doing everything to get us this far,” Palmer said. “It was a really good conversation and everyone is in the same ballpark.”

He said they told him they wanted most of the money to be spent on the shelter.

“I said, ‘That’s not a problem, we can switch the priorities around,’” Palmer said.

Officials already planned to use county money to put a new roof on the shelter and paint the outside. Palmer said the donation can go toward other improvements.

“I said we can do that,” he said. “We can fix the inside and make it a lot better for the animals.”

He said county officials could come up with a new proposal and share it with the Armstrongs before proceeding.

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