After weeks and months of debate, the Bradley County Commission has finalized its decision to choose a nonprofit organization to run animal control services for county residents.
With an 11-3 vote, commissioners voted to allow the county mayor’s office to sign a two-year contract with the SPCA of Bradley County.
The contract, which will cost the county $80,000 per year, will begin when the county’s current animal control agreement with the city of Cleveland ends in March.
The county’s animal control ad hoc committee had previously been considering two different nonprofit proposals — one from the SPCA and one from The Ark of Cleveland. The Ark’s proposal would have cost the county $240,000 per year.
While various factors were cited before they made their votes, the differences between their proposed costs to the county were given a lot of attention.
Commissioner Jeff Yarber said the differences in the budgets were “suspicious” given the differences between them, and he was worried the SPCA might actually incur more expenses than expected.
“My fear is this is a ‘get a foot in the door’ price,” Yarber said.
He said the time frame was also a concern given the fact that SPCA would only have a few short months to prepare to take over the county’s animal control.
Yarber then proposed a substitute resolution that would have given SPCA the contract but not required it to take effect until July 1, 2014, at the beginning of the county’s new fiscal year, to give the organization more time to prepare.
“I’m not sure what that accomplishes,” Commissioner Adam Lowe said.
Lowe said there would be some “tweaking to the process” along the way as SPCA begins its work, but the Commission needs to move forward with a decision that will take effect right after the current animal control agreement ends next year.
In addition to discussing the matter in its own ad hoc committee, the county had been working with the city’s animal control ad hoc committee to create a possible partnership between the two local governments and a nonprofit organization.
The Ark of Cleveland had been the city’s pick, and the organization’s proposals to both ad hoc committees had included using Cleveland animal control officers to pick up stray animals. The SPCA, on the other hand, planned to handle animal pickup on its own.
The $240,000 cost of partnering with The Ark included “a chunk of the proposal going to the city,” said Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones, who chaired the county’s ad hoc committee.
“I’m all for this privatizing and going with a nonprofit,” she said.
Commissioner Ed Elkins said he was in favor of passing the resolution to partner with the SPCA because of the lower cost both to Bradley County and Cleveland taxpayers, who are technically county taxpayers as well.
In addition to the SPCA having a lower proposal cost than the Ark, he said the SPCA also charges $50 in fees to those who wanted to adopt an animal, as opposed to The Ark’s $90.
“That buys a lot of dog or cat food,” Elkins said.
He said that meant a “win-win,” with the county both saving money and going with an organization that could make it easier cost-wise for people to adopt animals.
Yarber’s substitute resolution ultimately failed by a 12-2 vote.
Some commissioners expressed regret they were not able to reach an agreement with the Cleveland City Council to handle the county’s animal control.
Bill Winters, one of the commissioners who had been invited to join the city’s committee, said the city did not seem willing to compromise and consider a solution that did not include using the city’s paid animal control personnel.
“There has to be give and take on both sides,” Winters said.
After discussing several concerns, the Commission held its vote. Brian Smith, Yarber and Winters voted against the resolution, while everyone else voted in favor of it.
Though the county had just made its decision, Yarber and Winters both said they hoped the city would still look for ways to partner with the county and satisfy the Commission’s concerns at the same time.