Despite cost concerns, King County animal shelter wins over most cities
All but one of the 26 cities that contract with King County for animal services are expected to sign up for another three years, despite earlier grousing by officials in Kirkland, Bellevue and other cities.
Seattle Times staff reporter
After grousing about the high cost of sending animals to the King County shelter, Kirkland and Bellevue have decided to sign up with the county for another three years.
City Council members in both cities continue to have concerns about county costs they feel are excessive, and they haven't ruled out leaving the system at the end of the new contract.
All but one of the 26 cities that contract with the county for animal services have said they plan to stick with the county system through the end of 2015.
That's a victory for Regional Animal Services of King County, which was faced with the possibility that its cost per animal would rise if numerous cities decided to hire their own animal-control officers and send animals to private shelters.
It's also a notable turnaround for Kirkland, which earlier this year gave notice it intended to leave the county system and joked about a county cost formula it said allocated $1,248 for each dog, cat and rabbit sent from Kirkland to the county shelter in Kent.
County officials were quick to challenge that number, noting that because of a credit to the city, it actually paid a much-lower amount. But the $1,248 figure, which hasn't been forgotten, led Kirkland City Council members to liken a shelter impoundment to a stay in the Four Seasons Hotel or "a total spa stay."
Auburn, the one city to break away from the county system at the end of year, will send animals to a new Auburn Valley Humane Society shelter.
Shoreline at one point said it planned to leave the county system, but its City Council is expected to vote Monday to stay.
King County agreed during seven months of negotiations to keep the amount paid by cities from rising significantly during the new contract period. The county will expand the days of regular animal-service patrols from five to seven.
Kirkland and Bellevue staffers said those cities could reduce annual operating costs if they went to a city-managed or multicity operation. But when startup costs were added in, the county system would still cost less over the three-year contract period.
Bellevue City Councilmember Claudia Balducci said the county offered a more favorable rate structure than it did earlier in negotiations.
However, King County will have to spend more general-fund dollars to keep more cities in the regional system. And that's led to a new concern for cities: that County Executive Dow Constantine might propose a ballot measure for an animal-services levy that could go into effect in 2016.
There's been no decision to ask for a levy, said Constantine's regional initiatives director Diane Carlson. It's only one option the county will explore with cities to control general-fund spending on animal services, she said.
Gene Mueller, King County's new animal-services manager, said the county will try to boost revenues by doubling the number of licensed animals, which now is 17 or 18 percent. That target, he said, "is a very, very stretch goal. We can get to the point where there's a very modest impact, if any, on the county budget, and that's what this next three years is all about. This is the bridge to sustainability, and we're working with our partners to do it."
The Bellevue and Kirkland city councils appeared split on whether it would make sense to leave the county system in three years. The Bellevue council directed staff to report halfway through the next contract period on the feasibility of creating a subregional system with cities and other partners.
Although the Kirkland council didn't move as decisively toward breaking from the county, Councilmember Dave Asher said, "I don't think they have figured out or will come to figure out" how to provide animal services economically.
"We should be ready to jump in three years," said Councilmember Amy Walen.
Mueller said cities may not be fully aware of the cost of saving thousands of animals that once would have been euthanized, while also dealing with exotic animals, from alligators and snakes to livestock.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org