CARES Passes Review, Gains Majority Council Support; But Some Still Complain
by Jack Mayne
The Burien animal care non-profit CARES passed its first outside review (download PDF here, p.15), drawing raves from City Manager Mike Martin and four members of the City Council – but those who have been opposed to the agency since its inception are still opposed and seeking return to King County Animal Services.
The city hired Denise McVicker, the deputy director of the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County, to review the contract. She concluded that CARES meets public safety needs for animal control and it fulfills its contract obligations with Burien.
Among her findings:
- Its staff responds to service request within 24 hours.
- Staff and volunteers observe practices that protect animal health such as changing gloves between cages when cleaning.
- Cat enclosures were built with appropriate triangulated spacing and materials.
- Animals picked up are transferred to veterinary hospitals and then returned to CARES if deemed healthy.
- Animals are scanned for microchips.
- CARES staff used various media channels to list lost pets.
McVicker also said animals are treated humanely and CARES meets the five freedoms of animal care by ensuring the animals it handles are:
- Free from hunger or thirst
- Free from discomfort
- Free from pain, injury or disease
- Free from fear or distress
- Free to express normal behavior
McVicker had a list of minor corrections that are said to be underway, but also said some more serious corrections and changes would take more money that the $120,000 CARES now gets from the city. Martin and several members of the Council said that the amount paid to the agency is, in the words of Council member Jerry Robison, “a ridiculous number.”
How CARES is paid
“Previously when we talked about the cost of the contract, what we didn’t do was to take into account the licensing fees that we get,” City Manager Martin said. “The city receives between $60,000 and $70,000 in licensing fees that remains with the city that we apply to the cost of the CARES contract.
“So, the net out of general fund cost of this service is about $60,000 a year. When the city contracts with (Regional Animal Services King County), King County keeps the license fees so that would be $60,000 to $70,000 in addition to the contract cost.”
The cost of contracting with King County would be $360,000 more a year than contracting with CARES, said city staff management analyst Nhan Nguyen.
Former Council candidate Debi Wagner said she thought King County should be contacted again about a contract because “SeaTac got it for $110,000.”
Martin asked Nguyen if that was true. Nguyen said the county had changed its system of allocating costs.
The last contract proposal three years ago from King County was in excess of $360,000 a year.
However, SeaTac contracted last year with the county animal agency using a new and very complicated formula. Documents on SeaTac’s website says the 2013 estimated cost is “approximately $124,000.” Each contract year is figured anew considering a city’s use of the service and many other barometers of service and use.
“Our city generates about half the number of calls as the (King County) service area of more than a million people,” Martin said. “Our residents demand a lot of their animal control services.”
He told the Council that 51 percent of the CARES animals are adopted out, compared with 53 percent for the county, and 9 percent of the CARES animals were euthanized compared with 13 percent for King County.
“The raw data speaks very well for the service,” Martin said. “The amount of savings here is phenomenal – its way out of proportion to the actual contract cost.”
CARES, said Martin, is “performing all aspects of the contract and they are doing that very well,” Martin told the Council.
Nguyen said with young organizations, there are always things that can be improved upon. He produced a PowerPoint presentation of five easier things McVicker recommended being done and another list of more difficult – and more expensive – things CARES should do.
The easy things, which Martin said CARES is putting into effect as quickly as possible, include:
- Wearing goggles when handling cleaning chemicals.
- Entering animal information into the computer system right away to avoid the risk of forgetting to do it entering information twice.
- Only removing cats when necessary when cleaning cages to avoid the risk of stressing out the cats and making them ill. She also noted that once the waterproofing of the wooden cat pens wears a bit, it would be come difficult or impossible to sanitize.
- Using fresh water as the primary method of cleaning instead of mopping to avoid cross contamination.
- Answering the phone as “Burien Animal Care and Control” as written in the city’s policies and procedures manual.
More costly fixes
McVicker suggest several more difficult and expensive changes.
One was that city contract with CARES to pick up dead animals on the road and public spaces. Martin said CARES is not under contract to do that, the city’s Public Works Department does that “when they can get to it.”
He said that McVicker said the city ought to consider contracting with CARES to do the pickups.
In her report, McVicker said that while CARES’ sole animal control officer had received training by the National Animal Control Association, he would benefit from training by the Washington Animal Control Association Academy training. McVicker said Helms had been “denied entrance to the academy” but she said she had arranged for him to enter the academy next year if he passes a criminal background check.
Martin told the Council on March 25 that he appreciated McVicker’s help in getting a schedule of training for Helms.
“We’ve run into all sorts of issues that are being solved as we go along,” Martin said.
Other longer range changes McVicker suggested include training another staff person to back up Ray Helms, the only animal control officer; purchasing a commercial sanitizer or dishwasher; purchasing uniforms and issue badges to Helms; vaccinating live animals upon intake and hiring consultants to do training, create a staff evaluation process and to review the stray cat policy – that policy is basically to not take them in.
“All of the items (in the long-range list) require money and they all make sense,” Martin said. “These are things Denise (McVicker) said you don’t have to do … but the fact is that we could always tweak a few things for not a great amount of money and really up the level of service of this upstart group.
Works for free
Martin said he didn’t know that CARES Director Debra George “has all this time been working for free,” as pointed out in the McVicker report. “Considering the service this agency has provided this community, I think we owe her a large debt of thanks or a debt of gratitude.”
In her report, McVicker commented on the issue.
“Debra George takes no salary for the work she does,” McVicker said. “The public may find this difficult to believe. Perhaps this transparency will assist in the public believing that CARES is there for the animals and the City of Burien.”
Martin said he would bring up the CARES’ finance issue in more detail this month.
“Don’t be surprised if I come back to you and say we want to implement some of the improvement that (McVicker) has talked about and we want to add to their contract to do it.
“I’m just telling the Council that we’re into this three years now. This is a classic, young community-based organization that is just doing everything right. Lots of room for improvement, lots of room, but they are clearly passionate about this work they are providing it very inexpensively – far less than if they were in the public sector and I think it is time we got behind it.”
“They (CARES) have been some rough times … and they are improving and I am really proud of them. I think it is time we supported them in a way to make sure they are going to be here for a very long time because I hope they will.”
Deputy Mayor Lucy Krakowiak, longtime opponent of the CARES contract, said it appeared the Council would need to increase funds for animal control but she wants to reconsider using King County Animal Control, saying she was not sure the numbers comparing the county euthanasia with CARES was appropriate,
Council member Joan McGilton said she doesn’t think that the public is reminded “often enough that this is a discretionary service. The City of Burien does not have to provide this service to the community.
“I am very happy with what CARES is doing – I think it is cost effective. I applaud Debra for doing this for free. I think she has done a remarkable job.”
She said she disagrees with Krakowiak and that she doubt King County could give “even near” the service provided by CARES.
Critical of Blog comments
McGilton told Council members, “The one concern I have is there has been on-going discussions, especially in The B-Town Blog, that has been extremely negative about CARES and about city services. I think that the Blog is being used as a venue to look at certain commenters’ understanding of government services and a few people are trying to influence some very thought-out decisions.”
Council Member Rose Clark thanked Debra George, Ray Helms and the volunteers at CARES “for the work they have done.
“When we started discussion on animal control, we have no real idea of what it would take because we had always contracted with King County.” McGilton said the city was at the point where “we have a good facility” and she said, “we need to add funding” to the current $120,000 a year.
“I have looked at the (B-Town) Blog and it seems to me that folks who have written negatively to CARES on the blog probably haven’t been there and haven’t looked at the facility and have not really spent time understanding our contract and what we expected of CARES. For a long time I have not paid attention to their comments because of that. I feel comments need to be made with knowledge and not just bashing because somebody wants a certain thing done.”
Clark said Debra George has “been unfairly treated (and) she has continued to provide I think a good level of service to our community.”
She said that she expected the city staff to make proposals to improve the operation and she expects it will “come with a dollar amount.”
Council member Jack Block Jr. supported the CARES report and said he would like to see more pet licenses sold and suggested more places for licenses to be sold any perhaps an increase in the amount that the private vendors get for the sales, from $3 to $5.
Council member Bob Edgar said that since the animal control contract comes up for renewal in 2014, King County can make a proposal at that time, but he said he would be interested in hearing a presentation from the county agency.
Later Debi Wagner, a former candidate for the Council, said she took exception to the comment and noted that she had sent a letter to media outlets (see her letter here) that listed many specific problems that she had spotted in the lengthy McVicker report.
“I have been in there several times and so, when I write the articles, I write what I see.”
She said people writing comments on The B-Town Blog are writing what they believe and what they think needs to be changed and they are writing from knowledge.
Despite Martin’s earlier outline of the money source to pay CARES, Wagner said she was concerned about “the fact that it is only costing $60,000 a year to run CARES according to Mike Martin.”
“That wouldn’t work,” Martin interrupted Wagner. “So our contract with CARES is $120,000 and we give to them $10,000 a month. We get about $60,000 to $70,000 in revenue (from license fees) that we apply to that contract. So, if you take the $60,000 we get from the license fees and add the $60,000 from the general fund, we get $120,000 and that is what we pay to CARES.”