City signs interlocal animal control agreement

June 22, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah intends to participate in the updated plan for animal care, control and licensing, though most city residents might not notice any changes.

City Council members agreed last week to join the regional plan for King County Animal Care and Control services. The agency handles responses to complaints about vicious animals, animal-cruelty investigations and pickups of stray animals.

The updated agreement calls for similar services, but puts more emphasis on pet licensing to help fund the agency.

The council approved the contract in a unanimous decision June 7. King County officials and representatives from Issaquah and 26 other cities worked for months to develop the updated plan.

County Executive Dow Constantine sent a package of proposed reforms to the King County Council to remake the troubled animal-control agency. Constantine proposed code changes to restructure license fees and smooth the way for partnerships between the county government and private organizations to care for stray animals and license pets.

Constantine also requested $3.2 million — backed by $2.5 million from licensing fees and other revenue — to implement the model.

The proposal aims to promote pet licensing, because licensing fees provide a key funding source. The plan calls for a no-tolerance policy for licensing enforcement. Revenue from pet-license fees and related fines defrays about 60 percent of the cost of the regional service model.

In the past, the need for animal services in Issaquah has not been overwhelming. The agency responded to 195 calls on average in the city during the past three years, the most recent county figures show. During the same period, the county recorded, on average, 2,379 active pet licenses in Issaquah. City customers generated $64,509 in licensing fees last year.

The interlocal agreement lasts for two and a half years. In addition to the base contract approved by the City Council, municipal officials may request a contract with extended services in order to provide supplemental enforcement patrols in Tradition Plateau Natural Resources Conservation Area.

Former City Administrator Leon Kos — and then, after Kos retired in April, Deputy City Administrator Joe Meneghini — and Police Cmdr. Scott Behrbaum worked with the county and other contract cities during the overhaul.

Mayor Ava Frisinger said city leaders considered creating a municipal animal-services program, or joining other Eastside cities to form a regional agency.

“We analyzed it and there was no way we could go it alone and have reduced costs,” Frisinger said.

She cited high startup costs — including specialized vehicles to transport animals and a place to shelter abandoned and stray animals — as the barrier to establishing a city animal-services program. Furthermore, the agreement could also have put Issaquah police officers on the hook for calls about loose animals and barking dogs.

Frisinger said the idea lost appeal after County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert addressed a joint meeting of the Issaquah and Sammamish councils in March. Lambert reminded the councils how problems with King County Animal Care and Control leadership, organization and operations — including improper euthanasia techniques — had led to public outcry and legal challenges.

Issaquah and King County entered the initial animal-services agreement in 1993. The existing agreement expires June 30.

County Council members approved the regional plan June 21. The county plans to put the updated agreement into effect by July 1.

“We’ve come a long way in six months, but this plan is just a beginning, not an end,” Constantine said in a statement after the County Council vote. “This is a plan to increase revenues for all our partners, reduce costs, and make continual improvements in animal care, disease prevention, shelter overpopulation, systems management, and animal cruelty investigation that have been identified in the Animal Services Strategic Plan and in past reports and studies conducted under the leadership of the council.”

In November, County Council members directed Constantine to overhaul animal services, because the county could no longer afford to subsidize the cost for Issaquah and other contract cities. The council ordered Constantine to adopt a cost-effective model.

“With this new regional model, the county and cities can provide better public health and safety, animal welfare and customer service, at a lower cost than cities could provide on their own,” he said in a news release. “At the same time, we will continue to work on reforms that earn the respect of the community and lead to innovative partnerships that will reduce future costs.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

King County closes Bellevue animal shelter to public

The county-run Eastside Pet Adoption Center in Crossroads closed to the public June 12. Animals available for adoption at the Bellevue shelter will be transferred to the county-run shelter in Kent.

King County Animal Care and Control said the switch allows for more efficient staffing at the Kent location, better animal care and about $75,000 in lease and utilities savings for the cash-strapped county. The county transferred staff from Crossroads to Kent.

Though closed to the public, the Crossroads facility will remain a base for animal control officers assigned to the Eastside or North King County. The facility held about a dozen adoptable animals.

Stray or owner-surrendered animals should be taken to the Kent shelter, 21615 64th Ave. S., for processing and adoption. The facility handles about 7,000 stray and surrendered animals per year.

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