Animal services agreement advances

By David Showers
This article was published November 10, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

The $18.7 million 2018 General Fund budget justices of the peace advanced earlier this week included a $122,658 increase to account for the removal of voluntary tax proceeds Garland County had considered putting toward its new animal services agreement with Hot Springs.

The Finance Committee of the Garland County Quorum Court gave a do-pass recommendation Monday night to the amended budget and also endorsed a new interlocal agreement that commits the county to an annual animal control payment of $347,613 to be remitted in monthly installments of $28,967.

The payment represents half of the city's adopted 2018 budget for animal control, save $6,848 budgeted for the Bark Park on Hollywood Avenue.

County Judge Rick Davis told the committee proceeds from the voluntary tax will remain in a restricted fund for future animal control purposes. An initial agreement Davis and District 12 Justice of the Peace Darryl Mahoney negotiated with the city called for using the tax proceeds to reduce the expense to the General Fund.

The city informed the county earlier this year that animal control costs would have to be shared equally if the county wished to continue receiving services next year, requiring the county to increase the $211,000 it had been paying under previous agreements. The county began contracting with the city for animal control in 1999.

District 3 JP Denise Marion asked if refunds could be provided to those who have said the voluntary tax was a "bait and switch." Enabled by the passage of a November 2016 ordinance, the $10 voluntary tax is listed on real and personal property tax bills. The county tax collector's office said it raised $156,918 during the 2016 tax year.

The quorum court had discussed using the proceeds to establish a county animal services program anchored by an animal shelter at the Garland County Detention Center campus. It appropriated $10,000 last year for a conceptual design, for which it was invoiced by Cromwell Architects Engineers last month for $9,750.

The design Cromwell presented in September envisioned a $1 million, 14,000 square-foot animal shelter adjacent to the jail.

District 9 JP and Finance Committee Chairman Matt McKee told constituents in the gallery Monday night that while it was the quorum court's intent to use the tax proceeds for an animal shelter, the enabling ordinance doesn't bind the funds to that purpose.

The ordinance directs the money to an "Animal Control Fund" to be used for the "establishment, acquisition, construction, operation and maintenance of animal control services for the county."

McKee said the new agreement with the city is a starting point for improving animal control in the unincorporated area, not a permanent solution, and that a county animal shelter was one of several options the quorum court weighed.

"There's been a lot of information out there, whether on social media or an email going around, about us being dishonest with the public," McKee said. "I get a little bit upset with that. Because the idea we wouldn't consider all of our options, the idea that we would only move forward with one, that's just stupid.

"The intent of the (quorum court) was to build a facility. That's not the intent of the ordinance, but I know you've been told that it was. And I'm sorry for that, because no one should've told you that."

The new agreement will expire at the end of next year and be reviewed six months after it commences on Jan. 1. It creates a seven-member Animal Control Advisory Council with three positions reserved for county appointees.

District court fines assessed for violations of animal control laws will belong to the county if the offense occurs in the unincorporated area. The city will not assess the county daily boarding fees for animals impounded from one unincorporated area address if they number four or fewer.

The county will be charged if more than four animals are taken from one address and will be required to pay boarding fees within 15 days of being invoiced by the city.

The agreement is relevant to cats and dogs. Responsibility for livestock and exotic animals will be considered separately, with the city and county making arrangements not governed by the agreement.

The city will provide all animal control employees and plans on dividing the service area into four zones that won't be delineated by the city-county boundary. Animal control officers will respond to service calls in their respective zones, irrespective of whether the call emanates from the incorporated or unincorporated areas.

Davis said Sheriff Mike McCormick and Police Chief Jason Stachey will be responsible for fleshing out the operational details.

Local on 11/10/2017
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