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January 9, 2013

Humane Society decision delayed

Council has alternatives to study, moves work back to committee

CLINTON — Copious amounts of information and sparse details caused Clinton City Council members Tuesday night to push discussions on the city contract with the Clinton Humane Society and other alternatives on to future meetings.

The Humane Society is requesting a $120,000 subsidy from the city,  more than double the subsidy it currently receives, for the contract that would begin Feb. 1. On top of the increase in subsidy, the fees for the city to board animals are also set to rise this year.  

According to Humane Society Operations Manager Sandi Bartels, the actual cost to care for the animals that are brought in by the city, which includes those turned in by the animal control officer as well as strays that are brought in by citizens, actually comes in around $194,000. The roughly $74,000 difference could be made up by the organization through fundraising, she said.

However, other numbers for operation were floated during the meeting that projected the city’s cost for animal control services around $220,000, including the Humane Society’s subsidy, the budget for the animal control officer (which is approximately $94,000) and the $5,000 the boarding increase would likely be over the course of a year.

Other figures from cities such as Davenport and Bettendorf were also circulated; however, those figures did little for the Humane Society’s argument.  

“Frankly, what you’re asking for isn’t comparable. We were told right from the beginning, ‘Here’s our number this is it, we’re not taking anything less. Do it,’” City Attorney Jeff Farwell said.   

Council members and representatives of the Humane Society spent more than an hour and a half discussing the proposed contract and alternatives to it during the council meeting.  

Ward 3 Councilwoman Bev Herrmann expressed dismay at the Humane Society’s subsidy increase request.  

“Last year we had to cut staff and services and our non-union staff hasn’t had a pay raise in the past two years,” Hermann said. “The state has cut funds and regionalized services for both human abuse victims and mental health. The YW is short $100,000 for their shelter for abuse victims, human abuse victims and we may totally lose our mental health services.These are human services yet neither of these nonprofits is looking for the city to subsidize their shortages.”

Council members and Mayor Mark Vulich also took time to clarify the misconceptions allegedly being circulated about the city’s intentions for dealing with stray animals if it chose not to continue using the Humane Society.  These misconceptions included that the city is planning to open its own pound, that the city plans to kill all animals if it were to take over the services and that the city would be eligible to receive some of the state’s surplus money in order to pay for the services. None of these are true, officials said.

The city is considering other options for care of stray animals. By law, the city is only required to deal with stray dogs; however, all plans presented include the care of cats as well.

Farwell presented two alternatives to signing the $120,000 contact. First, the city could contract with Whiteside County in Rock Falls, Ill., for boarding services. Farwell said this would cost per day $10 per dog, $12 for a biting dog and $20 for a dangerous dog. A cat would cost $5 per day. Clinton would also be responsible for the transportation of the animals and the shots any animals would need. For one year, contracting with Whiteside County would cost $15,000 based on the number of animals and gas.  However, there were some questions as to whether the city would need to have a health certificate for every animal crossing the state lines to be impounded and what the procedure would be for Clinton residents needing to reclaim their animals.

The other option was to contract with a local veterinarian for the animal impoundment. Based on information provided by the vet, a dog would be $10 per day to impound while a cat would be $8. The vet would require a $40,000 subsidy and the city would need to agree to a five-year agreement. Farwell projected this would cost the city $49,000 annually.  

A third proposal came from former Humane Society board member Ed O'Neill, who attended the meeting on behalf of the Humane Society Board. O’Neill stated he could come up with a money- saving proposal within 90 days, by May 1. However, the city needs to submit a budget to the state by March 15, potentially making that window smaller.  

“That will save you 25 to 30 thousand dollars a year, with a minimum of a three-year contract. It will literally put you out of the dog business,” O’Neill said.

The proposal would be created by a group consisting of one Internal Operations Committee member, Clinton Police Chief Brian Guy, two members of the Clinton Humane Society and O'Neill would preside on the committee.

“This ridiculous circus will end,” O'Neill said. “These, what seem ridiculous, increases will end, too.”

 Like the other options, very few details on what this proposal would entail were available.  

With the Feb. 1 deadline quickly approaching, At-large Councilwoman Jennifer Graf pointed to a line in the contract that stipulates either the city or the Humane Society could get out of the contract with 30 days notice. This would allow the council to approve the subsidy increase without being bound to it for an entire year if another option becomes apparently more beneficial.

Ultimately, the council members decided to seek more information on all the alternatives, including O’Neill’s, and discuss them during the Internal Operations Committee.

“The point is...if we move forward with this, we still have the caveat in the contract either way that if we do a negotiation with five people that doesn't turn out to be a negotiation...then we’re done,” Graf said.

They also unanimously voted to send the discussion of the $120,000 subsidy on to the next council meeting.

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