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County unveils regional animal shelter model

The cities of North Bend, Snoqualmie and Carnation would pay King County thousands of dollars per year to handle stray dogs and cats under a new regional animal control model unveiled Thursday, April 8.

Under the plan, a new department, Regional Animal Services of King County, would service four districts of the county — one in the east, one in the north and two in the south. Abandoned animals would be housed at a non-profit shelter in Lynnwood or at the county shelter in Kent. Six full-time animal control officers would be dedicated to work in the field five days per week, with one officer dedicated to each district

The proposal was developed over the past three months by a Joint Cities-County Work Group composed of representatives from the county and the cities of Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Redmond, Bellevue, Sammamish, SeaTac, Tukwila and Kent. An agreement in principle, developed by the work group, was presented last Wednesday to city managers and administrators from across the county.

“For decades animal services have not been on the cities’ radar because the county handled it. Now we need to make a decision,” said David Cline, city administrator for Lake Forest Park and a participant in the joint work group. “We’ve had a very good collaborative process in a short time to come up with a regional animal services model that creates choices for the cities. Now it’s up to each individual city to decide whether to opt-in or provide this service locally.”

Costs to cities

Under the model, cities pay for service based on a ratio of their population and use of the system. Cities are credited for fees and fines. The total program cost to cities is estimated at about $4.1 million.

King County is providing transition funding for cities over the next two years —  $325,000 for the second half of this year and $650,000 in 2011.

The work group has estimated that providing service to North Bend would cost about $28,900 in 2010. With a $14,300 credit in pet license fees and about $3,500 in transition funding, North Bend would pay the county about $11,000 for service.

In Snoqualmie, service is estimated at costing $40,600 in 2010. Pet fees would bring in about $23,000, so the city would pay $17,000 for service under the regional model. Snoqualmie receives no transition funding.

Service in Carnation is estimated at costing about $12,000. With $1,400 in transition funding and about $5,700 in fees, the city would be responsible for about $5,000 in 2010.

The plan calls for an agreement through the end of 2012, during which time the parties will work to increase system revenue and reduce costs. The agreement could be extended by mutual agreement for an additional two years.

According to the county, the more cities that participate in a regional system and the more pets they license, the lower the costs will be for everyone.

The small Crossroads shelter in Bellevue will be closed for daily operations to focus resources on Kent, but it could be used as a base of operations for the east district and as a staging area for transfer of animals to Kent.

The county will continue to administer pet licenses as well as support marketing and education efforts by cities to help increase their licensing revenues.

According to planners, the new regional system would provide humane standards of care, routine vaccination of animals, and low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter operations to reduce the population of homeless and unwanted animals.

Local questions

In the run-up to the plan's announcement, city officials in North Bend and Snoqualmie aired concerns over cost.

"The two biggest issues are what is the cost to us over and above the licensing fees, and what are we actually paying for," said North Bend City Administrator Duncan Wilson.

Wilson also wanted details on whether the county is considering a no-kill policy and what it will do with animals who are not adopted.

"We don't know if there's an expectation of us being required to pay for care and maintenance of animals forever," Wilson said. "If we are, that's a significant cost."

If the county model does not suit local budgets, North Bend, Snoqualmie, Carnation, Duvall, Issaquah and Sammamish have been exploring a partnership for a local regional animal control effort.

"That's been a model the six cities have kicked around as an accessible approach because of geographical layout," said Snoqualmie Police Chief Jim Schaffer.

That approach might mean one or two full time employees serving the entire Snoqualmie Valley and Issaquah area. Shelter plans are still being explored.

"South-end cities in Seattle have negotiated with local vets and kennels for providing that type of service," Schaffer said. "It's the logical approach for any other city or group of cities to use, because you have to have a vet involved."

When a city can design a service that fits its needs, taxpayers are more responsive, the chief added.

"They get the service they're paying for, the responsiveness that they've gotten used to with the police, and cost control is up to them," Schaffer said.

The county is continuing to explore a relationship with non-profits for shelter services, but not necessarily field operations. Five cities in the north district – Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, Bothell, and Woodinville – would contract for space in the PAWS shelter in Lynnwood. The county may also contract with PAWS to house animals from the unincorporated parts of the north district.

"There are certainly partners, but there are limited facilities," said Ken Nakatsu, newly hired Regional Animal Services manager.

“Once cities set their level of participation, we can begin to work with volunteers and animal-welfare organizations to build a network of support around the new model and ensure the provision of humane care for these animals,” Nakatsu said.

King County currently provides animal services to all residents in the unincorporated areas, and contracts with 35 other cities within the county, all but Seattle, Renton, Skykomish and Milton. Three cities purchase limited contract services: Des Moines, Newcastle and Normandy Park. Five cities buy an enhanced level of service: Auburn, Shoreline, Kirkland, SeaTac, and Tukwila. The city of Federal Way recently decided to establish its own animal control system.

Nearly 200 volunteers help provide care for animals at the shelters and several concerns raised by them have been incorporated into the new regional model, such as closing the Crossroads shelter to focus more resources on Kent, involving the private sector through the partnership with PAWS, and dedicating resources to increase the rate of pet licensing for the fees that fund the system.

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