Humane Society seeks 2-year deal with Clark County

Group will stop housing stray animals if actual costs are not covered

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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The Humane Society for Southwest Washington has told Clark County commissioners that in 2014 it will stop housing stray animals for the county unless it gets a two-year contract to operate animal shelter services and is paid near the actual costs.

Contract discussions between the county and the Humane Society have simmered for several months after a dispute over how much the county should pay for such services.

The county is legally required to house the stray animals it picks up. And since the county doesn't have an animal shelter of its own, it contracts for service with the Humane Society.

For a number of years, the county paid the Humane Society less than what it said it cost to house animals. In 2012, the county's $120-per-animal payment totaled $265,000.

The Humane Society requested the county boost its payment to $132.50 per animal in 2013, and to $145 per animal in 2014. But Commissioner David Madore balked at that contract, saying he wanted to see more information on salaries at the organization.

After a month and much debate, the Humane Society eventually agreed to a one-year contract, paying $132.50 per animal, that was approved by Commissioners Tom Mielke and Steve Stuart.

But that won't cut it this time around.

In May, Humane Society staff and board members explained its financial situation to commissioners during a workshop. What they walked away with was a message from commissioners that the organization should cut more costs and raise more funds.

"The (Humane Society) board has gone through three rounds of cost-cutting in the past three years," said Stacey Graham, president and executive director of the Humane Society's local chapter. "The board felt we had cut where we could cut without compromising the care to the animals. I think we felt like it was incumbent upon us to decide what we needed to do for the shelter and the animals."

So what they're doing is giving an ultimatum.

In a letter to the commissioners, the Humane Society is asking for $170 per animal in 2014 and $200 in 2015. The $200 mark is cited as the actual cost of service in 2013.

"If we do not receive a written intent by Sept. 1, 2013, Clark County's current one-year contract with HSSW will expire on Dec. 31, 2013," the letter states. "Without a contract, HSSW will not accept stray animals from Clark County."

The letter states the Humane Society's intent is to continue its relationship with the county, but that it will no longer subsidize the cost to house stray animals.

The letter continues: "…as stewards of HSSW resources, it is our obligation to set the contract price at or near the actual cost of the valuable services HSSW provides to Clark County."

The letter was delivered Monday to the county.

Stuart, the chair of the county commissioners, said he saw it for the first time Wednesday. During a board time discussion, he informed the other commissioners of the matter and asked them to review the letter for discussion next week.

The discussion on the matter was brief, but County Administrator Bill Barron did say he would soon furnish commissioners on the costs involved with operating a county shelter.

When asked about that alternative, Stuart said it seems unlikely commissioners will want to take on the cost of a county-run shelter.

"I do know Bill did an analysis of what it would cost, and it was very expensive," Stuart said.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.