County, city trying to sniff out animal control solution

With local government purse strings tightening, Kitsap County's animal control services might be on its last leg, according to the Kitsap Humane Society's top dog.

"They haven't made that official yet, but they're hinting behind closed door meetings it could be cut by quite a large percentage next year," KHS Executive Director Sean Compton said.

KHS is the only provider of animal control services in the county, with cities also soliciting the services.

Two of KHS' biggest contracts, Kitsap County and the city of Bremerton, are up for renewal at the end of this year, with both annual contracts expiring Dec. 31.

"The county and Bremerton are about 80 percent of our total revenue," Compton said.

And with both governments pinching pennies where they can, officials are looking for ways to reduce the animal control contracts.

Compton said the county's 2009 contract is about $535,000 and believes it could be cut by 20-25 percent next year. He also said Bremerton's current contract is more than $200,000 and officials are looking to cut it down to $150,000 for 2010.

One animal control officer position has been cut, dropping the total number of officers down to six. KHS typically has a couple officers on the streets throughout Kitsap County every day who respond to a variety of calls, including barking complaints, picking up strays and writing citations.

Compton said officials don't think animal control is as necessary or important as other services, but it is and the department cannot afford drastic cuts.

He said the public has shown its support for animal control, saying it's a needed service in the county.

"They certainly have out-cried and given us their opinion that it is very important to them," Compton said.

Compton said the city of Bremerton has helped come up with creative ideas where KHS could make up the revenue, such as enforcing pet licensing, but KHS doesn't have the staff to enact such potential solutions.

"Animal control should be funded by licenses, but it's not," said Eric Baker, special projects manager for the county commissioners.

Kitsap County commissioners will discuss one potential short-term money-saving idea at Monday's commissioners' meeting. Kitsap is looking to save $28,000 by having the county assume all animal noise complaint calls through its Kitsap One phone system. KHS currently handles the noise complaints.

Baker said people would call the Kitsap One line — (360) 337-5777 — to make animal noise complaints and county officials would file the proper paperwork. Animal control officers would respond to animal noise complaints only when necessary.

If approved by commissioners Monday, Baker said the handling of animal noise complaints could be in the county's hands as early as Tuesday morning.

Compton doesn't disagree with the animal noise complaints idea and wants to make the necessary changes to keep animal control alive.

"We're certainly open to the change and we're going to give that a try," he said.

Aside from the noise complaints, KHS would continue to handle all other animal control issues for the rest of the year. The county will continue to mull over the 2010 animal control contract until early next year.

Baker said the county is looking at "small tweaks" to the animal codes and issuing lifetime pet licenses rather than annual ones.

"I am hopeful for the future," Compton said. "I just think these are the rough years."

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