COLUMBUS — Deb Potter expected to show up at Monday night’s Columbus City Council meeting ready to thank city officials for extending an agreement to house stray animals at Paws and Claws Adoption Center.
“As far as we were concerned, we were ready to sign it,” said Potter, executive director of the Platte Valley Humane Society (PVHS), which owns and operates the animal shelter at 2124 13th St.
But after seeing the agenda for next week’s meeting and an attached memo from City Administrator Tara Vasicek, she’s not sure what to think.
Vasicek, who took over as city administrator in February, is recommending Columbus end its contract with the local Humane Society and go back to running its own animal shelter.
That decision, which Potter called shocking, comes after what both women agree was a challenging negotiation process over the past year.
Both say they want the partnership that started 10 years ago with the opening of Paws and Claws Adoption Center to continue, but there are some disagreements that haven’t been worked out.
“It is our desire to continue with PVHS, but under the current terms I can’t recommend that we do,” Vasicek said.
The city administrator believes the five-year contract extension, which would take effect Jan. 1, leaves the city with “a lack of control over the expenses and operation of a service we must provide to the community.”
In the initial 10-year agreement inked in 2007, the city agreed to pay $30,000 annually for operating and personnel expenses at Paws and Claws, with that amount adjusted based on the consumer price index after two years, plus $20,000 annually for capital building expenses.
Under that contract, the $200,000 kicked in for building expenses would be “credited” to the city if PVHS can no longer provide the desired services, according to Vasicek. That language was removed from the updated agreement, which she views as a forfeiture of the investment.
The Humane Society is also asking for a significant increase to the city’s financial input.
The current contract has the city paying $33,577 for operating and personnel expenses this year, plus the additional $20,000, for a total of $53,577.
That amount would jump to $80,000 annually, a 49 percent increase, if the extension is approved.
According to Vasicek, this contribution would cover 84 percent of the Humane Society’s expenses for 2017, a figure she believes is too high for local taxpayers to cover.
Paws and Claws takes in an average of 375 dogs and 305 cats per year, according to figures provided by the animal shelter, with roughly 65 percent of the dogs and 85 percent of the cats coming from Columbus.
Potter said operating expenses have increased over the past decade as the state minimum wage, utility rates and costs for veterinary care all went up over that time.
“We’re just asking for a fair percentage, because we don’t expect our donors to have to cover all of the extra expense that it takes to operate,” said Potter, who noted that the figure is comparable to agreements other shelters across the state have in place.
In addition to the city’s payment, the nonprofit Platte Valley Humane Society receives money from donors and fundraisers, adoption fees and fees charged to owners who claim their pets. The Humane Society also has contracts with Platte County, Colfax County and Schuyler to house stray animals.
Vasicek argues that the services the city would be charged for under the new agreement extend beyond what municipal code requires.
City code states that an animal picked up by animal control or the police department will be held for up to 72 hours, giving the owner time to claim their missing pet, then it can be “destroyed in a humane manner” unless the animal control officer believes a suitable home can be found.
The city covers expenses for the first 72 hours an animal is held at the shelter, then it becomes the responsibility of the Humane Society.
In Vasicek’s opinion, PVHS is asking the city to pay expenses for an animal’s entire stay at the shelter, which can be several weeks before adoption, in the new agreement.
She provided a “conservative estimate” of $75,000 annually for the city to run its own animal shelter and said there are a couple of city-owned buildings that could serve this purpose.
The city previously operated an animal shelter, which was much smaller than Paws and Claws, in Pawnee Park East.
If the city ends its agreement with PVHS and starts its own shelter, Vasicek said the goal wouldn’t be to run a “high-euthanasia” facility. Animals would be kept for a specific amount of time, perhaps 30 days, so they can be claimed, according to Vasicek, who would also be open to working with Paws and Claws on an adoption process.
The city administrator also has concerns with language in the contract extension that says the Humane Society will evaluate each animal before determining whether it’s safe to house at the shelter.
However, Potter said she and other PVHS representatives met with Columbus Police Chief Chuck Sherer and Lead Animal Control Officer Shawn Flowers a couple of weeks ago to clear up this misunderstanding.
The shelter, she said, will only reject animals with injuries that require professional veterinary care or an illness that could be spread.
Potter, who called Paws and Claws one of the best animal shelters in the state, said she’d like to see the partnership with the city continue.
“We’ve been a great asset to the community,” she said.
Vasicek agrees, just not under the proposed terms.
“I want this relationship to continue, but I have to recommend what’s best for the city,” she said.
City council members, who met in executive session several times to discuss the ongoing negotiations, will have their say Monday night.