Spat could leave an­i­mals on US town’s streets


Less than six months af­ter vot­ers agreed to spend US$22 mil­lion (NT675.8 mil­lion) on a new an­i­mal shel­ter, Pima County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Chuck Huck­el­berry says we may not have enough money to pick up home­less and in­jured dogs and cats to put in it.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the city and county on an an­nual con­tract for an­i­mal- care ser­vices have turned into a battle of threats and mis­in­for­ma­tion.

“I think that the col­lat­eral dam­age is to the dogs and cats and pets in this com­mu­nity,” said Jack Neu­man, chair­man of the Pima An­i­mal Care Cen­ter Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee.

The two sides are in talks for a one-year ex­ten­sion on the city’s two-year con­tract, which ex­pires at the end of June.

Be­tween state bud­get cuts and the con­tin­ued flag­ging econ­omy, both gov­ern­ments are pinch­ing pen­nies, turn­ing lost pets and strays into bar­gain­ing chips.

Huck­el­berry said in an April 20 memo he is not will­ing to in­crease eu­th­a­niz­ing un­claimed an­i­mals, which re­sults in longer shel­ter stays. That leaves cut­ting back on re­spond­ing to calls for ser­vice from within the city — if the city re­fuses to pay — as the likely way to save money.

Neu­man said while many peo­ple may be un­aware of the com­plex­i­ties of con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions, “we just know the an­i­mals are pay­ing the price.”

One ma­jor dis­agree­ment in­volves pay­ments for ad­min­is­tra­tive over­head costs at PACC.

About a year ago, the county be­gan billing the city about US$23,000 a month in ad­min­is­tra­tive fees. The city has re­fused to pay those costs, and is now about US$310,000 in ar­rears.

In a memo to Huck­el­berry, in­terim City Manager Martha Durkin said the city won’t pay the fees be­cause they aren’t part of the con­tract. “The county has never charged this be­fore,” she said in the memo.

Huck­el­berry said the county might waive the fees if the city in turn waives ad­min­is­tra­tion fees charged to the county for sewer bills. But that’s not a fair trade, Durkin said in a memo.

The county also billed the city for US$245,000 for part of the con­struc­tion of a large, air-con­di­tioned tent to ex­pand ca­pac­ity for an­i­mals at the shel­ter to fur­ther PACC’s goal of eu­th­a­niz­ing fewer an­i­mals that could be adopted as pets.

Huck­el­berry said he as­sumed the city was on board with that model — but the city hasn’t paid that bill, ei­ther.

“This lack of re­im­burse­ment will have a di­rect im­pact on an­i­mal care ser­vices,” Huck­el­berry told Durkin in a memo.

Hold­ing more an­i­mals for longer pe­ri­ods at the shel­ter costs more, and if the city can’t pay more, Huck­el­berry said, one so­lu­tion could be to hold the line on shel­ter spend­ing, but cut back on en­force­ment.

That means an­swer­ing fewer calls for ser­vice from within city lim­its to keep costs un­der con­trol.

The city of­fered to let the county use a 1-acre lot next to the con­struc­tion site for the new voter­ap­proved shel­ter, which would save the county money by al­low­ing the project to be built more quickly. But the city wants a dis­count on its bill for the tent in ex­change, and Huck­el­berry said that’s not a fair trade.

About 55 per­cent of an­i­mals that come through PACC’s doors are from the city, Neu­man said. And vol­un­teers and staff don’t de­cide which an­i­mals to help based on geog­ra­phy — they help them all, he said.

“The com­mu­nity wants th­ese an­i­mals taken care of,” Neu­man said.

The city has an obli­ga­tion to pay its share of an­i­mal-con­trol costs, but only those costs that were spelled out in the con­tract, said City Coun­cilmem­ber Steve Kozachik.

The county should work with the city to rene­go­ti­ate the con­tract if it wants the city to pay ad­min­is­tra­tive fees, but it shouldn’t just send sur­prise bills, he said.

That has thrown a wrench into the works of the con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions, he said.

Huck­el­berry in­sists the city agreed to pay its share of the costs, and the county is billing ap­pro­pri­ately.

The city has bud­geted US$3.7 mil­lion a year for an­i­mal-con­trol ser­vices and doesn’t plan to spend more next year, said city bud­get direc­tor Joyce Gar­land. The city’s bill is about US$348,000 a month, in­clud­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tive fees — nearly US$4.2 mil­lion, she said.

Nei­ther city of­fi­cials nor county of­fi­cials could say what the dollar dif­fer­ence is be­tween what the county is ask­ing for and what the city is will­ing to pay.

“It is my un­der­stand­ing that we are all work­ing to iden­tify an af­ford­able and hu­mane busi­ness plan for PACC so we can bud­get ap­pro­pri­ately,” Durkin told Huck­el­berry in a memo.

Ev­ery­one is faced with bud­get chal­lenges right now, so the is­sue is try­ing to de­cide what can and can’t be paid for and how to work it out, but “dia­logue is very much open,” said PACC chief of op­er­a­tions Kristin Bar­ney.

Ideas the city has placed on the ta­ble in­clude a mar­ket­ing cam­paign to en­cour­age more peo­ple to li­cense their pets, which is ex­pected to bring an ex­tra US$100,000 in li­cens­ing-fee rev­enue next fis­cal year, Gar­land said. The city would make it eas­ier for peo­ple to pay li­cens­ing fees by ac­cept­ing vac­ci­na­tion doc­u­ments and pay­ments at more lo­ca­tions, she said.

Li­cens­ing fees bring about US$1 mil­lion a year to the city’s gen­eral fund, and the city spends that money on its con­tract with the county, she said. Along the same lines, the county would like to in­crease li­cens­ing fees by US$1 each year for five years, and the city could in­crease its fees to match, which Durkin sup­ports. That could bring in an ex­tra US$50,000 in fee rev­enue for the city, Gar­land said.

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