At a recent task force meeting held outdoors due to a power outage, Washtenaw County commissioners focused on possible ways to generate more revenue for animal control services – the latest topic in a series of policy task force meetings on that general issue.
The idea is that if more revenue is available to cover costs, the county can contract out for a higher level of service – beyond what’s mandated by the state. The question of what the county is obligated to do regarding animal control services, and how much those services cost, has been a contentious issue since the last budget cycle. That’s when county commissioners cut the amount allocated to the contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, which has provided animal control services to the county on a the basis of that contract. A new contract was negotiated with HSHV at a lower rate; and that arrangement ends on Dec. 31, 2012.
The current contract with HSHV was approved at the county board’s Feb. 15, 2012 meeting. At that same meeting, the board created its policy task force and a separate work group, led by sheriff Jerry Clayton, to develop a cost structure for those services. These two groups are laying the groundwork for soliciting proposals later this year for an entity to handle the county’s animal control services. HSHV is viewed by many commissioners as the preferred agency to continue handling this work. Representatives of the nonprofit have attended the policy task force meetings, and are members of the sheriff’s work group.
A discussion at the task force’s previous meeting on June 29 had indicated that representatives from other communities with their own animal control ordinances – Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township – would be invited to participate at the July 25 session. That didn’t happen, though it will likely occur at a future meeting. Commissioners also had planned to invite county prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie –as his office has purview over prosecuting animal cruelty cases and other legal issues related to animal control, which have an impact on expenses. Board chair Conan Smith reported that it hadn’t been possible for Mackie to attend.
Several revenue options were discussed on July 25, but no clear consensus was reached about which of them to pursue. Ideas included (1) licensing cats and exotic animals, like snakes; (2) allowing veterinarians to issue licenses; (3) easing other roadblocks to licensing; (4) taking a summer census of animals, then following up to ensure that the animals are licensed; and (5) making the lack of a license a civil infraction, rather than a misdemeanor. This would allow the county to impose fines, rather than jail time.
The next session is set for Thursday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. at the county administration building, 200 N. Main in Ann Arbor. It’s expected to include both the policy task force and the sheriff’s work group, and set the stage for an Aug. 22 meeting that would include staff from the county prosecutor’s office and judiciary. A recommendation and RFP (request for proposals) are expected to be presented to the board in September.
For additional background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “Work Continues on Animal Control Policy” and ”Next Steps on Animal Control Policy.” More information related to this process is also posted on the county’s website.