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Liberty Lake reviewing animal control contract

Mayor asks SpokAnimal for proposal; seeks input from SCRAPS

The city of Liberty Lake is following in the footsteps of Spokane and Spokane Valley by reviewing its animal control contract to see if cheaper options are available.

Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson did not include any money for animal control in the proposed 2013 budget he presented to the city council for approval. The omission was discussed during a public hearing on the budget on Tuesday.

The city contracts with the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service for animal control services. Peterson said he has been talking for several months to Spokane County, other jurisdictions and SpokAnimal about his options. The total cost for animal control in 2013 through SCRAPS is nearly $29,000, minus roughly $17,000 in licensing revenue, for a projected cost of $11,618.

“We feel that animal control should be self sustaining,” Peterson said. “If we don’t have enough fees coming in because we don’t have enough licenses, is it because we don’t have enough animals or because we don’t have a good enough licensing program?”

The city previously contracted with SpokAnimal for several years. Any strays picked up were brought to local veterinarians, who held them until SpokAnimal picked them up. From 2004 to 2007 the town spent $20,000 on animal control and took in $21,000 in licensing revenue, Peterson said.

When Spokane Valley held a public hearing this year to debate whether to contract with SpokAnimal or SCRAPS, several Liberty Lake residents testified in favor of SCRAPS, saying that the service provided in the past by SpokAnimal was unacceptable. Peterson said he never heard any complaints about SpokAnimal during his previous tenure as mayor. “SpokAnimal has come a long way,” he said. “We never had a personal complaint.”

Peterson said he asked SpokAnimal to come up with a proposal for Liberty Lake. They propose providing animal control for $14,000 a year, which would leave a surplus of $3,000 for the city, Peterson said. “There’s a big difference,” he said.

SCRAPS director Nancy Hill said it’s unrealistic to expect animal control to pay for itself. “If every pet owner licensed their pet, that would probably be close to a reality,” she said. “But right now only a little over half our budget is paid for by revenue, mostly licensing fees.”

Having less than 100 percent compliance with licensing laws is not unique to Spokane County, Hill said. “I’ve done some national research,” she said. “I have yet to find anywhere in the U.S. where licensing is covering the cost.”

Spokane County is on par with other locations, she said. “We’re certainly not at the low end of the scale,” she said. “We have a fairly high compliance rate for licensing here.”

Hill said her organization has been trying to improve the rate of licensing in recent years with some success. Licensing reminders are sent out with the property tax bills. Pet owners can now renew licenses online. At one point they even tried sending people door to door.

“We actually ran a canvassing program for a while, but staff is expensive,” she said. “It wasn’t cost effective. They couldn’t sell enough licenses to cover the cost of the program.”

That increase in licensing has led to a decrease in costs, Hill said. In 2009, Liberty Lake paid $14,512 for animal control compared to the $11,618 proposed for 2013. “We’ve lowered their costs,” she said.

Peterson said he wants to change the way the city’s costs are set, such as only contracting with SCRAPS for certain items. “All we’re trying to do is get a fair contract for both entities in place,” he said. “Right now the contract that Spokane County is offering is basically, from our position, not a good contract.”

Peterson said he is giving SCRAPS an opportunity to make the necessary changes to be competitive. “If they don’t, we’ll probably move forward with SpokAnimal,” he said.

After Tuesday’s discussion $17,000 in animal licensing revenue was added to the city’s budget along with a $17,000 expense to make it revenue neutral. The issue of animal control is expected to be discussed further during the Dec. 4 council meeting.

“Our job is to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money,” Peterson said. “In the long run we are looking for good service, quality service that meets the needs of the citizens.”