Representatives from the city of Liberty Lake were on hand Tuesday to sniff out a new deal in 2013 for animal-protection service from Spokane County.
But county commissioners were hesitant to bite, saying reducing service levels by SCRAPS in order to reach a lower cost for the city could cause a bad precedent.
Nancy Hill, director of Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, told county commissioners at their morning CEO meeting that Liberty Lake city officials want to “change the way we do business” by only paying for the services they request in 2013 instead of its share –1.8 percent – of SCRAPS’s total annual cost to provide service, which includes larger players like unincorporated Spokane County and the city of Spokane Valley.
In 2011, Liberty Lake had 268 requests for service from SCRAPS – whether it be picking up a stray dog or dealing with a potentially dangerous animal – a number that’s “pretty consistent” each year, Hill said.
Under the city’s new proposal, the Liberty Lake Police Department would handle animal control matters, for the most part.
“They would call SCRAPS only when they couldn’t handle the call,” Hill said. SCRAPS would still collect pet licenses, which generated $17,060 from Liberty Lake in 2011.
That amount, however, likely only represents about 30 percent of the total pet population in the city.
While money generated in licenses would cover what the city owes, the math isn’t that simple across the board, Hill said. System wide, the cost of service outstrips what is generated in licenses.
“Everyone is billed for their percentage of use,” she said. “License revenue doesn’t pay for the service.”
“Some jurisdictions are givers and some are takers,” agreed Commissioner Al French.
Board Chairman Todd Mielke said that he has had conversations with Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson, who indicated he is not interested in paying for animal control out of the city’s general fund. Instead, he would like to see SCRAPS do more to make sure pet owners purchase licenses.
But animal control is a necessary, often expensive, evil and one that isn’t usually a profitable one.
“Clearly we wouldn’t be having this conversation if everyone was licensing their pets,” Hill said. “It’s a tough sell to get pet owners to license. We’ve done well, but we’re not there yet.”
Liberty Lake Police Chief Brian Asmus said the goal, by having his department step up to handle some of the animal complaint calls, is to reduce that 1.8 percent figure for his city.
“Nothing would really change,” he said. “We simply will attempt to reduce the number of times we call SCRAPS.”
French, however, said he is not in favor of an “a la carte” approach to providing county services.
“If (Liberty Lake) is not comfortable with the service they’re receiving from SCRAPS, let them handle their own (animal control),” he said.
Hill agreed that other jurisdictions, also looking to reduce budget costs, “would want the same deal.”
Commissioner Mark Richard likened the situation to when the county was getting requests for certain levels of snow-removal service from the city of Spokane Valley years ago that were inconsistent with other areas.
“Folks called us to complain,” he said. “How do you tell the public what’s happening in a 20-second soundbite?”
The Liberty Lake City Council will hold a public hearing on its proposed budget on Nov. 13.