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April 7, 2010

Joint agreement in principle proposed for humane and cost-effective “Regional Animal Services of King County”

Four districts would each have at least one dedicated animal control officer;cities would receive credit for pet license fees collected within their jurisdiction

King County would be divided into four districts each staffed by at least one animal control officer, stray or abandoned animals would be housed at a non-profit shelter in Lynnwood or at the county shelter in Kent, and cities could enjoy significant economies of scale under a new regional animal services model developed by a Joint Cities-County Work Group.

"Under a regional system we can protect the health and safety of our residents, provide humane care for animals, and license pets at less cost than by everyone going it alone," said Carrie S. Cihak (pron: CHEE-hawk), Director of Strategic Initiatives for the King County Executive. "These outcomes are important to our residents and are the responsibility of every jurisdiction."

"For decades animal services have not been on the cities' radar because the county handled it. Now we need to make a decision," said David Cline, city administrator for Lake Forest Park and a participant in the joint work group. "We've had a very good collaborative process in a short time to come up with a regional animal services model that creates choices for the cities. Now it's up to each individual city to decide whether to opt-in or provide this service locally."

The proposal was developed over the past three months by a Joint Cities-County Work Group composed of representatives from the county and the cities of Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Redmond, Bellevue, Sammamish, SeaTac, Tukwila, and Kent. The "Agreement in Principle" developed by the Work Group was presented Wednesday to city managers and administrators from across the county.

If adopted by a sufficient number of cities, the new program with the working title "Regional Animal Services of King County" would have three parts:

ANIMAL CONTROL

  • The county would be divided into four districts: north, east, and two in the south. Six full-time animal control officers would be dedicated to work in the field five days per week, with one officer dedicated to each district to assure local accountability. Service level will be more consistent and predictable and cities will be able to build a relationship with their district's dedicated officer. Cities could coordinate to buy higher levels of service.
  • Resources for the region would include one field sergeant, one animal cruelty sergeant, and a call center staffed by three people with after-hours dispatch through the King County Sheriff's Office.
  • A bright line will be drawn between field staff and shelter staff, with each having separate and clearly defined responsibilities.

ANIMAL SHELTERING

  • Animals from all four districts will be housed at the county shelter in Kent, with support from two staff transferred from the Crossroad shelter. A volunteer and foster care coordinator will be added to enhance the quality of care for animals within limited financial resources.
  • Five cities in the north district - Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, Bothell, and Woodinville - would contract for space in the PAWS shelter in Lynnwood. The county may also contract with PAWS to house animals from the unincorporated parts of the north district.
  • The small Crossroads shelter in Bellevue will be closed for daily operations to focus resources on Kent, but it could be used as a base of operations for the east district and as a staging area for transfer of animals to Kent.

ANIMAL LICENSING

  • A single licensing system administered by the county would be retained for the region, but license fees collected from residents of each individual city would be credited back to that city against its share of the program's cost. Each city would have a strong incentive to increase its rate of pet licensing to lower its costs.
  • The county will continue to administer pet licenses as well as support marketing and education efforts by cities to help increase their licensing revenues. Targeted efforts in some local cities have recently shown significant increases in pet licensing and a positive return on investment.

BENEFITS

The new model proposes a humane and sustainable system through significant economies of scale and financial incentives for cities that promote public health and safety, animal welfare and customer service, and help contain costs over time:

  • For the public - a regional system provides a single place to call to find a lost pet, get a license, or register a complaint. The public health system will be better able to identify and track issues related to animals, such as rabies.
  • For the cities - a regional system allows local police to focus on traditional law enforcement. It shifts the burden of complex cases to specially-trained animal services staff with the expertise to handle unusual events, such as horse cruelty, animal hoarding, illegal reptile vendor operations, necropsies, animal quarantines, and holding of animals as evidence in criminal cases. Trained staff can also address multi-jurisdictional issues, such as dog- and cock-fighting rings and puppy mills.
  • For the animals - a regional system will provide humane standards of care, routine vaccination of animals, and low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter operations to reduce the population of homeless and unwanted animals.

COSTS

With the economies of scale, the more cities that participate in a regional system and the more pets they license, the lower the costs for everyone. Pet licensing revenue from fees and related fines currently cover about 60 percent of the proposed regional service model. With a total program cost to cities estimated at $4.1 million, after their license fees are credited back their net cost is estimated at $1.9 million.

  • The proposal seeks to balance the different needs and licensing rates among cities by allocating costs 50-50 based on the relative populations of cities and their use of the system. For example, if a city has 20 percent of the population but accounts for only 10 percent of the animals that arrive at the shelter, then that city's cost allocation for sheltering will be about 15 percent of the total.
  • For 13 cities that are above the median net cost per capita under this proposal, King County would provide transition funding totaling $325,000 for the second half of this year and $650,000 in 2011. Those cities are Carnation, North Bend, Burien, Kent, SeaTac, Tukwila, Algona, Auburn, Black Diamond, Covington, Enumclaw, Maple Valley, and Pacific. The 5 cities with the highest net cost per capita would receive relatively more of this transition funding: Kent, Auburn, Enumclaw, Algona and Pacific.
  • For the five cities with the lowest licensing revenue per capita, the county would provide transitional license marketing support at a cost of about $100,000, which is estimated to generate $150,000 in additional revenue for those cities. Those cities are Bellevue, Kent, SeaTac, Tukwila, and Enumclaw.

The "Agreement in Principle" proposes a 2.5 year agreement, through the end of 2012, during which time the parties will work to increase system revenue and reduce costs. The agreement could be extended by mutual agreement for an additional two years.

BACKGROUND

Animal control, sheltering and licensing are discretionary local services for which individual cities historically had responsibility within their own borders. After being approached by leadership of the Suburban Cities Association in the mid-1980s, King County agreed to provide animal services on behalf of cities on a regional basis, in exchange for the revenues from pet license fees to fund the system.

That arrangement has not been revisited since its inception, and over the past quarter-century the gap between license revenues and the cost of the system has grown to a level that is not sustainable for the county. In recent years, the county has subsidized the system with more than $2 million per year from the county general fund. Based on direction from the King County Council to enter into new cost-recovery arrangements with the cities, the county recently issued termination letters to cities for existing animal services contracts, effective July 1.

The new regional model proposes the participation of 30 cities. King County currently provides animal services to all residents in the unincorporated areas, and contracts with 34 other cities within the county, all but Seattle, Renton, Skykomish and Milton. Three cities purchase limited contract services: Des Moines, Newcastle and Normandy Park. Five cities buy an enhanced level of service: Auburn, Shoreline, Kirkland, SeaTac, and Tukwila. The city of Federal Way recently decided to establish its own animal control system.

Nearly 200 volunteers help provide care for animals at the shelters and several concerns raised by them have been incorporated into the new regional model, such as closing the Crossroads shelter to focus more resources on Kent, involving the private sector through the partnership with PAWS, and dedicating resources to increase the rate of pet licensing for the fees that fund the system.

"Volunteers provide an immense boost to the quality of care for the animals and their active participation is absolutely essential to the system," said Ken Nakatsu, King County's regional animal services manager. "Once cities set their level of participation, we can begin to work with volunteers and animal-welfare organizations to build a network of support around the new model and ensure the provision of humane care for these animals."

"Our Joint Cities-County Work Group accomplished a tremendous amount of work in a short amount of time." said Cihak. "I thank the cities that worked with us in developing a proposal that balances the different needs of cities while maintaining the benefits of a regional model for all our residents - both human and animal. We look forward to working in support of this proposal with all the cities in the weeks ahead."

The "Agreement in Principle" is now before cities for evaluation and potential action on prospective contracts by their respective city councils. The King County Council must also approve the contracts, which must be in place by June 30.

More information, including project documents.