(Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)
Clark County's contract with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, over shelter services for those with paws, is on pause.
Clark County commissioners have officially offered the Humane Society a counterproposal for a one-year contract, as opposed to the two-year agreement that was before the board.
But one commissioner says he would likely return to a two-year agreement if he could get a closer look at the Humane Society's books.
Commissioners first took up the matter last week, but elected to hold off for a week so Commissioner David Madore could get caught up on the financial situation surrounding the agreement.
Madore said at Tuesday's meeting he's seen a fair amount of information from the society, but is still curious about the salaries paid to the animal group's executives.
"We certainly support the good work (of the Humane Society)," Madore said "None of this, just simply an inquiry, asking for transparency, asking for what should tell a very good story, is in any way (meant) to take away from that at all."
He continued, "The only reason why we are asking for the information that has so far not been provided is because we are charged to be good stewards of the public trust."
Madore made a point that it was "hundreds of thousands of dollars" the Humane Society is requesting, and while he believes it is a "very good effort," he wants the county to be financially prudent with its expenditures.
The reason the contract is raising scrutiny appears to stem from the Humane Society's request that the county pay more to operate the shelter.
The financial request would bring the amount the county pays to house a stray animal from the current rate of $120 per animal for three to five days — to $132.50 per animal in 2013, and to $145 per animal in 2014.
Humane Society representatives say they are asking for the raise because they've put off requesting increases in the past. Now, with the cost of doing business on the rise, they say the county needs to pay its fair share.
The county is legally required to house stray animals it picks up. The law requires that animals be kept for three days or, if they have a microchip embedded in them to assist with animal recovery, for five days.
In 2011 the county paid $185,000 for the shelter service, a number that had been in line with costs from the previous three years.
But in 2012, the society told jurisdictions they needed to pay the true cost of housing an animal.
"We were charging $69.76 per animal when it was costing $125," said Stacey Graham, president and executive director of the Humane Society for Southwest Washington. "(Last year) we came to the county and said, 'Here is what's happening,' and showed them the numbers."
In 2012, the county paid the Humane Society $265,000. The amount requested for 2013 is $322,500.
Graham said after the meeting that the board of directors for the Humane Society isn't interested in releasing its employees' salaries, as Madore is requesting, for confidentiality reasons. Under the rules of nonprofit disclosure records, the local chapter of the Humane Society must disclose any salaries over $100,000 per year. Graham said no one at the Humane Society is paid that much.
The debate ended after Commissioner Tom Mielke said he didn't want the Humane Society to continue operating without a contract. Mielke suggested a one-year compromise that would allow commissioners to "become more knowledgeable over the next year, and still have the services provided."
Commissioner Steve Stuart joined as Mielke's second vote to approve the motion. But Stuart said he would "much prefer we move forward with a two-year contract," as the one-year contract still needs to be agreed upon by the Humane Society.
Stuart also pointed out he is wary of the county's not contracting for shelter service as the law requires.
"As far as the investment of the public in this, I have heard no testimony or no comments from this board that it would be more cost-effective for us to go it alone," Stuart said. "And I don't expect to, because currently the county taxpayers are being subsidized by the organization, not the other way around."
Madore voted against the one-year deal, saying he still wants to see the salaries, and again stressed that he expects he will vote in favor of a two-year agreement if he can see the salary information.
Graham said the Humane Society's board doesn't meet until March 28, but she hopes to bring the executive board together before that time to discuss the options before the organization. She said she would present both the one-year contract and the request to see certain employee salaries.