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Have A Way With Animals? The City Of Burien May Want To Talk With You

by Ralph Nichols [1]

If you provide a service for animals – especially domestic pets – in the Burien area, the city is interested in talking to you.

That’s because the Burien City Council voted 6-1 on April 26 against participating in a new King County regional animal control system.

City staff, acting at the direction of the council, will develop alternatives for providing animal control services in Burien.

Councilwoman Lucy Krakowiak, preferring to join the regional program, which other council members noted would cost the city more money for less service, cast the dissenting vote.

“I feel that this is the right thing to do,” observed City Manager Mike Martin, who proposed the action, following the council’s decision.

Martin will send out this week requests for proposals for private individuals to provide animal control services. After receiving responses, city staff will discuss with them the specific kind of services each can provide.

King County’s proposal had Burien sharing one animal control officer five days a week, eight hours a day, in a district including SeaTac, Tukwila, Kent, White Center, Skyway and Vashon, city management analyst Jenn Ramirez Robson told council members.

The county would have continued sheltering approximately 460 animals from Burien annually at an average cost of $350 an animal. And the county would have continued to receive about $119,000 collected by the city from local residents for pet license fees.

But Burien would also have had to use general fund revenue in addition to license fees to pay for city participation in the county plan, Ramirez Robson said.

That would have cost Burien an estimated $64,383 from July 1 to Dec. 31 this year, $128,767 in 2011, and $140,542 in 2012.

The total cost of the county program for Burien by 2012, including the $119,000 in license fees, would have been $259,542.

Krakowiak said she thought the city could realize “cost savings with working with King County,” while avoiding legal and health issues and other risks.

But, countered Councilman Gordon Shaw, “I don’t understand [her] math … it appears to me that under the services we would get from King County, that is just far too much money. From what I’ve heard there are alternatives available.”

Councilwoman Kathy Keene expressed “real concern about one [animal control officer] in this vast area. I, too, think this is something we can do as a city.”

Cautioning her fellow council members that paying to participate in the regional program would likely result in the loss of funding for a police officer, Councilwoman Rose Clark said she is “not in favor of going with the county.”

Mayor Joan McGilton, also speaking in support of a city run animal control program, said she thought county program participation would come closer to costing Burien two police officers.

While another option would be to deplete the city’s human services budget of some $160,000, McGilton added, “I don’t want to have to choose between kids and animals.

“My personal recommendation is to explore whatever options there may be” without partnering with the county for these services. “There is a risk, but I just can’t see no support in our community.”

King County has provided animal services since the mid-1980s. Photo courtesy King County.

Councilman Jack Block Jr. questioned the county’s commitment. “Earlier this year, the county was going to get out of animal control. Now the county wants to get back in. That doesn’t inspire confidence.”

King County has provided animal control, sheltering and licensing services for cities, in exchange for keeping all pet licensing revenue, since the mid-1980s. But the county will no longer provide these services after June 30 due to cost and ongoing budget problems.

During public comment to the council, Bernice Bellamy of Bellevue, speaking for the King County animal control plan, said “the more [cities] that participate in the partnership with the county, the lower the cost is for everyone.”

It’s “not a perfect model,” she said, but the county has “better ability on a regional basis” to handle animal control. Private owners of kennels, for example, “just aren’t qualified” to provide these services.

But, Martin reminded council members, “animal control services are discretionary.” A city is required by law only to remove dangerous animals from the streets.

So the question facing them became, “how much do you want to pay for something that, in the main, is a discretionary service?”

He recommended “that we sever the relationship with the county and look for alternatives … we’re not jumping off the cliff. This is a reasonable risk to take.”

Ramirez Robson said city staff had already identified about 15 local providers of animal care who have indicated an interest, from kennel operators to individuals who could transport animals, and veterinary clinics to feral cat services.

Martin thinks the city may be able to pay for its own animal control program by cutting the cost of pet licenses in half and, in turn, seeing the licensing compliance rate among pet owners increase from around 20 percent to at least 60 percent. In addition, other special funds could be used to help pay for this service.

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