Bremerton reviewing its contract with Kitsap Humane Society

The City of Bremerton may renegotiate its service contract with the Kitsap Humane Society in an effort that city officials hope will save the city money and place a greater emphasis on animal control.

The city pays more money per person to the Humane Society than every other city in Kitsap County — something Mayor Patty Lent wants to change, given that the Humane Society provides about the same service for each city, she said.

However, given the number of animal complaints from Bremerton and the time animal control officers spend in the city compared to other cities in the county, the price Bremerton pays per hour of service is less than most other jurisdictions.

Bremerton pays $204,000 per year to the Humane Society, or about $5.48 per person — that’s almost two dollars more than Port Orchard, the city with the second-highest per-resident payment to the Humane Society, with a $36,804 annual payment at about $3.54 per person.

“We’re trying to save money for citizens and provide the same service that we’ve got,” Lent said.

City Councilman Roy Runyon has advocated for the contract change, having worked with the City Council’s Public Safety, Parks and Planning Committee to recommend changes.

“If our contract is the same as all the jurisdictions, who are paying a lot less, what’s going on there?” Runyon asked. “We need to get value for money.”

Sean Compton, director of the Humane Society, wrote in an e-mail that Bremerton generates the most activity for the agency because of its higher investigation case load, call rate and number of shelter animals coming from the city than any other in the county. It has also forgone billing for services provided during the past two years in Bremerton.

According to information provided by the Humane Society, Bremerton paid about $105 for each hour officers spent on patrols and complaints in the city in 2010. Only Kitsap County and Port Orchard paid less, at about $101 and $98, respectively. Bangor, Poulsbo, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Jackson Park and Bainbridge Island paid more per hour, with the shipyard and Jackson Park topping the list at more than $246 per hour.

A 2009 annual report from the Humane Society indicates that Bremerton generates 15 percent of the animal activity reported to the Humane Society, compared to 4 percent in Poulsbo, 3 percent for Port Orchard and 2 percent for Bainbridge Island. Unincorporated Kitsap County produces 66 percent of calls.

In the e-mail, Compton also stated that the society has added “poultry coverage” following the City Council’s decision in Novemeber to allow residents to keep four hens.

But more than money, Runyon is concerned about service. The city’s contract with the Humane Society has been “watered down” in the area of code enforcement expectations, he said.

An earlier contract, drafted in 2002 and amended periodically through 2009, states the Humane Society’s responsibilities include issuing misdemeanor and infraction citations, along with investigating complaints and providing 24-hour emergency services. The latest contract’s work description, signed in January 2010, includes emergency services and investigation of animal cruelty complaints, but makes no mention of the ability to issue citations.

A previous story in September reported that the Humane Society announced a policy shift away from animal control, with an emphasis on animal cruelty, citing financial difficulties and a shortage of enforcement officers. That change was meant to apply only to Kitsap County, as the city of Bremerton has a separate service contract with the Humane Society.

What’s resulted is an ambiguity regarding the Humane Society’s responsibilities, Runyon said.

“For me, the big point was ensuring this was an animal enforcement and control contract,” he said.

Lent said she hopes a new contract with the Humane Society would have “a little more teeth.”

Financial Services Director Becky Hasart said the contract renegotiation is “extremely preliminary,” but both the city and the Humane Society are seeking more specific language surrounding the Humane Society’s responsibilities.

“There are some clauses that leave things too much to interpretation,” she said. “We need everybody to understand what to expect. It helps to minimize misunderstandings.”

The city is examining all of its service contracts as part of an audit to see where it can save money, Hasart said, but it is not yet known whether the city will be able to reduce its payment to the Humane Society – numbers have not yet been discussed with the Humane Society.

“We don’t even know if this is realistic,” she said.

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