Animal shelter would cost Clark County $1M a year

Humane Society has issued an ultimatum amid talks to provide services

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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It would cost Clark County more than $1 million per year to operate its own animal shelter as an alternative to contracting for animal shelter service for less than half that amount with the Humane Society of Southwest Washington.

An analysis of the construction and operation of a new facility was presented to commissioners at their Wednesday board time meeting by Paul Scarpelli, the county's animal control manager.

A 10,000-square-foot facility would cost $2.75 million to build and just under $1.1 million per year to operate. A 15,000-square-foot facility — the size being suggested to deal with the volume of animals taken in by the county — would cost $4.15 million to build and nearly $1.2 million per year to operate.

Those numbers are based on an opening date in 2015 -- the same year the Humane Society is requesting the county pay $200 per stray animal taken in.

The county estimates it will collect 2,250 strays in that year. Under the Humane Society's contract, that would cost the county $450,000 in 2015.

The negotiations

The cost analysis is an indication that the Humane Society may hold most of the cards in a negotiation that has now stretched on for months.

For a number of years, the county has paid the Humane Society less than what the organization says it costs to house animals.

In 2012, the county's $120-per-animal payment totaled $265,000.

In March, 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 said he wanted to see more information on salaries at the organization before he voted.

After a month of debate on the issue, the Humane Society eventually agreed to a one-year contract, paying $132.50 per animal, which was approved by Commissioners Tom Mielke and Steve Stuart as a compromise.

And in May, the Humane Society staff and board members explained its financial situation to commissioners during a workshop.

But after hearing the board suggest that the organization cut more costs and raise more funds from other sources, the Humane Society elected to offer an ultimatum.

In a letter to the commissioners, the Humane Society asked 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 county is legally required to house the stray animals it picks up and hold them for three days.

No decision

Commissioners asked if any other nearby shelters could be contacted to discuss a contract, but Scarpelli said there was no capacity at such locations.

Further, a former animal shelter located on Port of Vancouver property is beyond repair and would need to be bulldozed and constructed anew.

Commissioner Tom Mielke questioned some of the costs of a new shelter, such as the need for a medical facility.

"Where would we put the animals when we bring them in and they're injured?" Scarpelli asked.

Mielke responded the county would need to decide "whether or not you take them to the doctor's office or euthanize them."

But Scarpelli reminded the commissioner that state law requires the county to hold animals for at least three days.

Madore then asked to see a proposal on a feral cat program that would spay and neuter cats, then release them back to the wild.

"Rather than the idea of building a facility, what might be a practical choice is to make a difference between dogs and cats," Madore said. "The Humane Society right now does not have a feral cat program like other (Humane Society chapters) do."

Madore said the thinking is that could "further reduce the cost of bringing cats in."

Stuart said the thought was "not a bad concept" and asked for more information to be brought back to the board.

Scarpelli said the Humane Society is interested in starting such a program, and he is currently gathering that information.

What the board did not decide, however, is if it will accept the Humane Society contract before the Sept. 1 deadline.

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