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Posted on Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 7:50 a.m.

Tanya Hilgendorf and Conan Smith discuss the controversy over Humane Society funding cut

By Lucy Ann Lance


Tanya Hilgendorf and Conan Smith

The interpretation of a Michigan law that dates back to 1919 is at the center of a debate over mandated funding for animal control in Washtenaw County. The Humane Society of Huron Valley, with an overall budget of $4.2 million, receives $500,000 a year in county taxpayer funds. That funding is now slated to be cut in half as the county tries to eliminate a $17.5 million structural budget deficit.

Humane Society Executive Director Tanya Hilgendorf is challenging those cuts, charging the county is reneging on an agreement reached when the agency built a new shelter several years ago. County officials counter that the proposed reduction is part of $1.2 million in cuts to outside agencies and that human services have to take a higher priority.

In separate interviews on 1290 WLBY, producer Dean Erskine and I talked about the funding controversy with Tanya Hilgendorf and Washtenaw County Board Chairman Conan Smith.

Read the interviews:

Conan Smith: County will bid out animal control services if Humane Society won't work within budget constraints

Tanya Hilgendorf: Humane Society will be forced to end relationship with county if cuts go through

The accompanying interviews are condensed versions of longer conversations that have been edited for clarity. The complete audio interviews are posted online at Lucy Ann Lance co-owns Lance & Erskine Communications, which produces “The Lucy Ann Lance Business Insider” (M-F, 8 a.m.-11 a.m.) and “The Lucy Ann Lance Show” (Saturdays, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.) on 1290 WLBY. The programs are live streamed at, and podcast on



Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 12:52 a.m.

Boy are they shooting themselves in the foot. If this contract falls through, what will end up happening is over the long run they will end up spending more money for less services and less effective services at that.

Susan Karp

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 11:46 p.m.

It won't be less expensive if the County Commissioners choose to go to another system of caring for stray an abused animals. It WILL result in the deaths of thousands of healthy, adoptable dogs and cats though. The residents and voters of Washtenaw County should let the Commissioners know that we will not stand for a step backwards in Animal Welfare in our community.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 10:56 p.m.

Smith suggests that if the Humane Society does not care for stray animals, the Sheriff will have to go around and shoot them. I cannot imagine our community agreeing to this. It certainly does not seem a cheaper and more effective way of dealing with this issue. With the cuts in police, would this be the best use of the Sheriff's Dept? Some thoughtful consideration of this issue by the County Board of Commissioners would be much more appropriate than a knee jerk reaction.

Basic Bob

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 4:41 a.m.

The officers will not shoot an animal unless it is endangering human life. But if the county were to convince officers to shoot strays, they could also have the officers throw the carcasses in the road for the road commission to clean up. It would only take a few instances each year to get citizens to round up the strays and pay the Humane Society out of their own pockets. The potential cost savings to the county general fund could then be used to fund patronage appointments.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 7:21 p.m.

Couldn't you get a better picture of Conan Smith? That one makes him look like a slimy weasel.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 11:07 p.m.

Exactly. Very appropriate picture.

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 3:06 p.m.

"Conan - a dare: publish the audits of SPARK. If there's nothing bad in them you shouldn't have a problem doing that, right?" Conan can talk tough to defenders of animals but comes up a bit short when it comes to the powerful in the political world so you can forget about any audits of SPARK. But kudos to Ms. Lance for asking a few direct and probing questions.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

Interesting how 'tough' our Commissioner is on the Humane Society while SPARK doesn't have to be accountable at all - give them millions over the years and never ask for an audited account of the one primary function: jobs. Conan - a dare: publish the audits of SPARK. If there's nothing bad in them you shouldn't have a problem doing that, right? But then again if there's something suspicious then why are you still funding them? With our money, not yours.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 12:11 p.m.

Perhaps the county should reconsider their reckless change from a defined contriution plan to the defined benefit plan if they are looking for ways to be fiscally sound. Apparently, ifit benefits their own pocketbook they won't cut it, but if fiscal soundness can be achieved on the backs if the poor or thosewith no voice (children in the Head Start program and now stray animals) that is fair game. Are they all becoming republicans?


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 12:23 p.m.

Half the Democrats in Washtenaw County are really Republicans who have realized that it's easier to win an election around here with a (D) next to your name instead of an (R). The sheep have been trained to vote that way.

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 11:58 a.m.

Has Commissioner Smith paid back the money HE owes the County? That would be a good first step to coming up with the needed funding to avoid this cut to the Humane Society.

Basic Bob

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 12:22 p.m.

Of course not. I'm surprised his colleagues on the board didn't remove him from the chair for his defiance. It just goes to show that the whole thing was a partisan attack rather than a true concern for county finances.