Clark County-Humane Society deal still not done

Commissioners again backing 1-year contract after considering 2 years

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 
photoClark County Commissioners Tom Mielke, from left, David Madore and Steve Stuart

A contract between Clark County and the Humane Society for Southwest Washington for animal shelter services remains unfinished as commissioners have gone back to favoring a one-year contract, and are waiting for the Humane Society to respond.

The move by the commissioners, taken at Tuesday's morning business meeting, is another step in contract talks that have taken nearly a month.

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. Since the county doesn't have a pound of its own, it contracts for service with the Humane Society.

The Humane Society's request brings the amount the county pays to house a stray animal from $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 increase because they've put off requesting them in the past. Now, with the cost of doing business on the rise, they say the county needs to pay its fair share.

In 2012, the county paid the Humane Society $265,000.

A one-year compromise contract was approved by county commissioners two weeks ago when they couldn't agree on an originally proposed two-year contract.

Then, last week, it looked like the original two-year contract would be approved when more information was provided to commissioners.

This week, they're back to the one-year contract -- which still requires agreement from the Humane Society.

The newest hiccup in the contract talks came Tuesday, when Commissioner Tom Mielke said he thinks there is still more research to be done on the issue.

He said the increase in payments the local Humane Society is requesting for 2014 has him "feeling uncomfortable" with a two-year contract, and he'd need to see more information before he votes for a contract beyond one year.

"I'm still hearing there is a lot more to learn," Mielke said. "I think the one-year contract is in place, and it gives us the opportunity to come back and study it."

Commissioners Mielke and Steve Stuart voted for a one-year contract with the Humane Society on March 12, approving that first cost increase. The Humane Society would still need to agree to that contract, as it is a counter proposal.

At that time, the one-year contract was moved for by Mielke in an effort to compromise with concerns held by Commissioner David Madore.

Madore said at the March 12 meeting that he needed to know more about the salaries being paid to employees of the Humane Society before he could support any contract.

The one-year contract passed with Madore as the lone "nay" vote.

The following week, Madore said he would support the two-year contract with the Humane Society as he had seen the salaries and there were "no red flags."

But things changed again this week when Madore said he had gathered more information, including salaries of comparable Humane Society chapters. He also said he was only provided salary ranges by the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, not specific salaries or benefits.

Stuart, who made it clear he would prefer to offer the original two-year contract, questioned Madore on why he wouldn't support the two-year contract, as he had indicated the week before.

"In making decisions, one of the good practices is that you never go back and rethink a decision," Madore said. "The only exception is if you have new information that is enough to pass a threshold that says, "Ya know, we ought to take another look at that.'"

Still, Madore said he would go along with a vote for a two-year contract if it was unanimous.

"(The new information) gives me some reservations," Madore said. "But if my fellow commissioners are fine with that, I'm fine with it. But if there be reservations, then I'll support that reservation as well."

Mielke then stuck to his concerns, saying he'd prefer they stay with the previously approved one-year contract.

Stacey Graham, president and executive director of the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, said she will take the proposal for a one-year contract to her board of directors at its Thursday meeting.

She said the bottom line is that the actual cost to keep an animal is $170, and the goal is to get the county to pay closer to the true cost of the service.

"The conversation shouldn't be about salaries," Graham said. "It should be about the contract fees for the service we are providing."

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