PARKERSBURG - The Humane Society of Parkersburg has notified Wood County commissioners as of July 1 it will eliminate three humane officer positions, thus effectively taking it out of the animal control business.
The county is required by code to provide animal control services relating to dogs and has over the years chosen to do that by contracting with the humane society.
No one from the society attended Monday's meeting when the commissioners discussed the letter. The letter, dated March 27, is signed by Maryann Hollis, humane society executive director. The commissioners earlier announced they would not fund a requested 10 percent increase, an additional $27,135, for the new contract with the society. The county's current contract, which expires June 30, is for $271,344.
Wood County commissioners on Monday discuss a letter from the Humane Society of Parkersburg. (Photo by Pamela Brust)
Contacted after Monday's commission meeting, Carrie Roe, humane society board president, said the county officials asked for recommendations.
"We think what is outlined in the letter creates the most flexibility for them on how much they can afford to provide. It leaves it totally to their discretion since the county ultimately has responsibility for providing those services. It really gives them the maximum flexibility and discretion to decide," Roe said.
By eliminating the three jobs, the savings would be $68,602.
According to Hollis' letter, animal control services provided by the society are not "at the core" of why the organization was created more than 50 years ago. Hollis said providing the shelter for unwanted animals is their core mission.
"We also recognize the county's ultimately responsible for animal control by law and as such we feel that the county should make the determination as to the level of this service that should be provided to the county's citizens based on available funds and in compliance with state mandates," her letter states.
Hollis said the society looked at possible cost reductions, noting while they understand it will reduce their income, they believe eliminating the humane officers' positions is the way to go. She said there was some discusssion about maintaining some responsibility at a reduced level for animal control and the county could supplement with their law enforcement, but it was decided eliminating the positions was the most prudent move, noting the costs for overtime, gasoline, uniforms, training and related costs for the humane officers positions would be eliminated as well.
"Even with this reduction in service and costs, we will still be funding a large amount of our contracted services for the county and city of Parkersburg through our own personal fundraising, so this contract is still not representative of the true service costs," according to Hollis' letter. "We are willing to continue to offer sheltering services to the county and city of Parkersburg regardless of who provides your animal control, but obviously we will need to come to an agreement on the specifics for the service for 2013-2014," Hollis said. The service cost for sheltering will total $202,746 for the new year based on the reductions.
After the city of Parkersburg stopped paying the society for services, the county picked up the cost for the city as well. Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said he's not too concerned about the elimination of the humane officers.
"It's not going to make a difference to us. I've maintained all along the humane society was not the best suited for enforcement. I've told the county they need a plan and writing a check once a year is not a plan," Newell said, noting currently "if you call the humane society, they tell you they don't enforce anything inside the city anyhow. We always have the ability to cite the owner for allowing their dog to run loose. That's really our best avenue toward dogs," the mayor said.
"The best animal control program is the spay and neuter clinic. It's the most common sense plan going. That's why I asked city council to help out with it in the past, but to no avail," Newell said.
"Covering shelters of animals is above what we are required to do and statistics show the largest numbers are cats from the city of Parkersburg," Commissioner Blair Couch said, noting the code does not cover cats. "I would suggest, in April, we visit other counties that have animal control facilities and see how they operate, look at their costs and procedures."
Commission President Wayne Dunn said he does not like the "road the commission is going down."
"But circumstances are different now. I am shocked, I thought after my meeting with them they were going to reduce one officer and change the hours to address the lack of a funding increase. Maybe I misunderstood, but I thought things would continue on as they were," Dunn said. "Once the clinic is done that will change the dynamics, but I'm feeling like we are being forced now to look at options."
"We have to live within our own budget, and we couldn't afford the increase," said Commissioner Steve Gainer. "I"m not in favor of giving them the additional funding. We aren't going to fund things we aren't required to do. We positively need to look elsewhere. We are not required to provide a shelter, and we aren't going to fund anything if they don't do the whole thing."
"I personally don't want to set up a county facility that could cost us $400,000 a year to operate," Dunn said.
"Some counties spend a lot more, others significantly less, we can ask the state county association for a list of contacts and see how the other counties operate," Couch said.