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Animal control services money in limbo

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Jake Magee
Friday, October 27, 2017

JANESVILLE—The Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin isn't guaranteed $125,000 from the city for 2018 animal control services after all, though it likely will end up with the money, officials told The Gazette on Thursday.

During the Janesville City Council's five-hour budget meeting Wednesday night, Councilman Jens Jorgensen made a motion to allocate an additional $62,500 toward a line item in the Janesville Police Department budget for animal control services, bringing the total to $125,000. The council unanimously agreed.

The Gazette incorrectly reported earlier the city was giving the money to the humane society. Instead, the city will issue a request for proposals to determine if any other agency is interested in the $125,000 animal control contract.

Since 2014, the city has entered into an annual $125,000 contract with the humane society to take care of stray cats and dogs within the city. In August, the city proposed cutting by half the amount spent on such services to afford hiring a police officer. The proposed 2018 budget presented Wednesday had $62,500 set aside for animal control in 2018, prompting Jorgensen's motion.

Jorgensen's intention was the $125,000 would be used to renew the city's contract with the humane society, he said, but the council doesn't dictate with whom the city contracts.

When the council budgets money to buy new police vehicles, for example, it doesn't tell the city from where to buy them. The principle is the same with animal control services, council President Doug Marklein said.

"How that is allocated is not a council decision," he said.

As a result, the city intends to issue a request for proposals soon to determine how that $125,000 will be used in 2018, Deputy City Manager Ryan McCue said.

It's too early to say what the request for proposals will call for or when exactly it will be issued. It could go beyond requesting only animal control services, but the maximum the city has to work with is $125,000, McCue said.

Humane society Assistant Executive Director Jim Hurley wrote in an email to The Gazette on Thursday that whether the society submits a proposal depends on what the request for proposals seeks.

"If the city desires to work with a vendor to provide stray holding services for lost and homeless pets found here in Janesville, our intention would be to provide those services," humane society Executive Director Brett Frazier wrote in an email to The Gazette. "We believe we've already submitted a proposal, but we're happy to reformat it to fit an RFP process."

During Wednesday's meeting, council members implied it was too late in the budgeting process to issue a request for proposals. City Manager Mark Freitag said it wasn't. A couple council members expressed frustration the city hadn't already explored other options before Wednesday's meeting.

Councilman Rich Gruber said he is "guilty" of suggesting the city look for animal control service providers other than the humane society.

"Periodically, it's important to test the marketplace and see what's available, and that's what the RFP (request for proposal) process is all about," he said.

That said, Gruber said he values the humane society's work.

"Personally, I'm very satisfied by the services that are received by the residents of the city from the humane society," he said.

Frazier takes issue with the city's intention to seek other animal control service providers so late in the year. The city's intention to issue a request for proposals means the society has to put on hold the society's budgeting process, which has just begun, Frazier said.

The $125,000 in limbo makes up about 12 percent of the humane society's budget. Losing that funding "could very well lead to our organization having to have difficult discussions about the affordability of providing stray hold services at all," Frazier said.

Jorgensen said its bad timing for the city to issue a request for proposals.

"I feel that to entertain the idea of putting out an RFP in the hopes of seeing what we can do for 2018 is irresponsible, and it's being a bad partner …" Jorgensen said.

The city tried negotiating with the humane society for cheaper services, but the society wouldn't budge. The society isn't interested in holding animals for a shorter time and euthanizing them sooner to save money, for instance, Frazier said.

"I understand it's been frustrating to the city not to have an option from us for a 50-percent cut in funding, but we have to look realistically at how we operate, and we feel that we are always trying to operate as efficiently and affordably as we possibly can," he said. "If we thought there was a way could provide services cheaper, we'd do it."

In 2011, Janesville and Beloit issued a joint request for proposals for animal control, shelter and care services. That was around the time humane society costs were "starting to get a little out of control," Frazier said.

No one responded to the request for proposal, he said.

"We are confident that there is no other organization conveniently located that can provide the same, high-quality services as affordably to the city," Frazier said.

A few council members agreed the humane society would likely end up with the $125,000 for animal control services.

"Realistically, it's going to be the HSSW that's going to win the contract for 2018," Marklein said.

"What the humane society does and the level of service they provide would be, I believe, next to impossible to find someone who is as local as they are, that provides the same level of care to the animals and really cares about the community like they do," Jorgensen said.

McCue called such predictions "speculative."

Regardless, the request for proposals could at least be a first toward finding a new provider of such services for 2019.

"That'll make things real interesting next year," Marklein said.



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