Commission: Humane society raise unlikely

PARKERSBURG – Meeting with Humane Society executive director Maryann Hollis Thursday, Wood County commissioners indicated they may not be inclined to approve a requested increase in service fees.

Noting a rise in health care, utility and medication costs, the agency has requested a 10 percent increase in service fees for the 2013-2014 contract. The county is paying $271,344 annually for animal control services. Part of the funds to pay for the services come from dog license fees collected by the county, the rest is paid out of the county general fund.

The cities of Vienna and Williamstown have their own contracts for service. The county’s contract includes the city of Parkersburg. Previously the city had its own contract and the county only covered the unincorporated areas. When the city announced it would no longer contract with the society for services, the county asked the society to take over coverage of the city as well, with the county footing the entire bill.

“You have asked for a 10 percent increase, an additional $27,000 for the year. If we don’t grant the increase, are your services going to change,” Commissioner Steve Gainer asked.

“I can’t comment on that, that would be a board of directors decision,” Hollis told commissioners.

“Our income has not increased by 10 percent. I don’t see how we could possibly do this,” Gainer said. “A lot of the agencies we fund are going to see a decrease in funding.”

Hollis said the board’s next meeting is March 25. She invited commissioners to get on the agenda to discuss the matter.

“It appears the cost for service for the cat population from the city of Parkersburg is over $100,000 of a contract that totals $270,000,” Commissioner Blair Couch said, noting state code does not mention cats, only dogs in its requirements.

“It’s close to one-third of our total intake,” Hollis noted.

“It’s not a state mandate. We have chosen to continue providing the service relating to cats because it was felt it was for the betterment of the community. Maybe we should discuss the possibility of an intake fee with the board. The code does not require the county to provide for services for cats in Parkersburg,” Couch said. “Costs continue to rise and unwanted pets are still there. I think a nominal intake fee might help with some of the county’s costs. Maybe the city should be asked to help with costs related to the cats. We want to continue to keep taxes low and we don’t have the authority to implement a user fee, so we would have to look at raising the levy rate. It’s cut services or raise taxes,” Couch said. “We don’t want to raise taxes in this economy, but just as an example, our jail bill is out of hand. Hopefully your new spay/neuter clinic will have an impact on the numbers,” Couch said.

“We are sure that it will,” Hollis said.

“Our elected officials are keeping their budget requests down, asking for the same or less than last year because they understand the situation we are in. It’s doubtful you’ll get the increase you requested,” Gainer said.

Hollis noted the society’s budget has remained fairly static for the past three years.

“We’ve tried to hold the line, and we didn’t request an increase last year,” she told commissioners.

Groundbreaking for the new spay/neuter clinic is scheduled for early April.

Hollis told the county earlier current payment for services provided for the city is “still not equivalent to the service provided.”

By state code the county is required to provide animal control services. For many years those services were provided by contract with the Humane Society of Parkersburg, which has a shelter and humane officers on duty. After the city of Parkersburg ceased to provide funding for the society, the county absorbed the costs to provide services to residents within the city limits.

Services addressed in the current contract include taking in stray and unwanted dogs and cats, providing housing, care and disposition of the animals, answering complaints relating to unlicensed dogs during business hours of the society; attempting to pick up stray dogs; investigating complaints relating to alleged neglect/cruelty of animals; humane officers taking possession of any animal including birds or wildlife in captivity known or believed to be abandoned/neglected.

The society is also to provide 24-hour emergency services throughout the unincorporated areas and the city. Emergency calls are defined as injured dogs and cats; vicious dogs and cats, and assisting law enforcement in emergency situations such as motor vehicle accidents, DUIs, fires and drug raids, where animals are involved.

The contract between the county and the humane society expires June 30.