Relations strained between city, humane society

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Marcia Nelesen
Friday, October 12, 2012

— The Janesville City Council OK'd hiring two part-timers to pick up abandoned and neglected animals even as members grappled with its rocky relationship with the Rock County Humane Society.

At least one official during Wednesday's budget study session questioned the truthfulness of Angela Rhodes, society executive director.

Members also directed City Manager Eric Levitt to pursue a contract with both the Dane County Humane Society and the Rock County Humane Society to care for strays. The Dane county society already has agreed to take Janesville's neglected and abandoned animals—so-called "owned" animals, which the Rock County society will no longer transport or accept.

"That way, if we cannot come to an agreement this year (with Rock County), or if they (costs) become unmanageable, we could go strictly to Dane County, which has over the last four or five years not increased their fees," Levitt said.

Dane County still must determine whether it has shelter room for more of Janesville's animals, Levitt said.

Councilman Russ Steeber said a contract with Dane County would keep the local humane society from being the only option.

"We're kind of at their mercy, and that's played out in the fees they've charged, the increases we've seen," Steeber said.

He said he doesn't believe the increases have been justified.

"Quite frankly, I'd move it all there (Dane County). The (society) has done us no favors."

Councilwoman Deb Dongarra-Adams agreed.

"I'd love to keep (it) local, but they're playing a game. And I think they're going to lose," she said.

The relationship between the Rock County Humane Society and the council became rocky about two years ago when the society doubled its charge to the city, from about $114,000 to $206,000 annually.

Society officials said then the additional charges still did not cover the cost of animal care. They said they were giving Janesville a break because they wanted the city to build a new animal facility.

To handle "owned" animals, Police Chief Dave Moore has suggested his department hire two part-time employees, who also could perform other duties.

Janesville had been paying $72,000 for a humane society worker to pick up strays during working hours Monday through Friday.

Moore appeared frustrated Wednesday when he told council members that Rhodes recently said $27,000 of the $72,000 is a "flat fee for stray care staff" that would continue to be charged to the city even if the city picks up animals.

"It is very difficult to provide a budget for animal care planning with the lack of candor by Angela Rhodes and the Rock County Humane Society," Moore said.

On Thursday, Moore said he's not sure his department could afford to hire two part-time employees if the city still must pay the humane society $27,000 for "stray care staff."

Rhodes called Moore's "lack of candor" comment "dishonest and hurtful."

"I didn't 'suddenly' find any additional fees. There are still costs involved with the intake and care of stray animals … Our own budget process has been compromised while we await their decision," she said.

Rhodes said she met with city staff in July and heard their plans but did not exchange budget numbers. She said she waited for recent confirmation to let them know what the fees would be.

Last updated: 4:51 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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