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Posted on Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 5:49 a.m.

Washtenaw County human services funding partially restored, but no deal yet with Humane Society

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners took action Wednesday night to amend its budget for 2012 and 2013 to restore some of the lost funding for human services.

By 10-1 vote, commissioners agreed to dip $257,076 into the county's general fund cash reserves to partially reverse cuts made last month.

That places an additional $128,538 back into the line item for coordinated human services funding for each of the next two years.

It also still leaves about a $300,000 drop next year in funding for specific agencies that provide human services to some of the county's neediest populations.

There were no efforts made to restore funding for the Humane Society of Huron Valley, and Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor, said the county has yet to reach a deal with the nonprofit agency for the provision of animal control services after Jan. 1.


Conan Smith

The Humane Society's contract with the county — worth $500,000 annually — ends on Dec. 31. The county wanted to cut that to $250,000, but the agency's leaders balked at that offer.

If a deal isn't reached by the end of this month, Smith said, the county will be forced to find another way to meet its animal control mandates on an interim basis. He said county officials and Humane Society leaders plan to meet soon to continue negotiations.

Smith said he doesn't think of Jan. 1 as the drop-dead deadline on negotiations.

"It's simply the end of our existing contract with the Humane Society, so we have to make sure that we are providing a cost-effective service beginning Jan. 1 with somebody," he said.

"It doesn't mean that we stop discussing a long-term agreement with the Humane Society, or anyone else for that matter," he added. "Beginning on Jan. 1, some entity will be providing services for the animals of Washtenaw County following the scope of services developed by staff."

Only two commissioners — Democrat Wesley Prater and Republican Dan Smith — questioned the $257,076 budget amendment for human services on Wednesday. Both voted against the transfer in committee, but only Dan Smith dissented in the final vote by the board.

"We just adopted a budget about three weeks ago," Dan Smith said. "And to increase it at this point, when we haven't even started operating under it, is premature."

The county has allocated funding to community-based organizations for the purpose of delivering human services to county residents since 1984.

But faced with a $17.5 structural deficit, the board last month approved a two-year budget that reduced human services funding from $1.46 million to $1.03 million starting Jan. 1.

In addition to reductions in earmarks for specific agencies, the cuts included a reduction in the coordinated funding for human services — the money the county pools with other partners to fund a wide host of nonprofit efforts — from $1.015 million to $886,462.

The county board passed a resolution on June 1 that established a $1.015 million annual funding level for coordinated human services. The budget amendment championed by a majority of commissioners on Wednesday restores funding to that level.

Even with the $257,076 use of fund balance, the general fund cash reserves still are projected to total more than $12.5 million at the end of 2013. That's about 13 percent of budget, which is considered healthy by industry standards.

But Dan Smith still objected, saying the county is in "dire financial straits" and pulling that money out of the fund balance is inappropriate.

"The county employees were asked to make a lot of sacrifices in this budget we adopted, and I'm not comfortable taking the money out of fund balance to pay for this at this point in time," he said. "We are looking at a $14-plus-million shortfall a couple years from now."

The county board — along with the Ann Arbor City Council, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, United Way of Washtenaw County, and Washtenaw Urban County Executive Committee — approved the new coordinated funding process in the fall of 2010.


Yousef Rabhi

Commissioner Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, said honoring that commitment is one of the most critical things the county board can do for people in our community who really need help.

"It's going to all of the organizations that we're supporting to make sure they can maintain the level of service that they've enjoyed in the past," he said. "This is just making sure that they're funded to the amount that we've already committed."

Rabhi said the money will help organizations like Ozone House, Safe House, Food Gatherers, Catholic Social Services and the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County.

"I'm proud that the county can step up and fulfill its end of the bargain and be part of this coordinated effort with those other agencies," he said. "Unfortunately, we cut it out of the budget last time, but I'm glad that we could build enough political momentum to bring it back today, before the end of the year, so those organizations can plan on having that money."

The money for the Humane Society is another issue.

The county's budget originally proposed reducing the line item for the Humane Society from $500,000 to $250,000 starting Jan. 1. A revised budget document later showed the Humane Society's name crossed off with "mandated animal control" written in its place.

The budget approved last month shifted the $250,000 line item previously earmarked for the Humane Society into the sheriff’s office budget. Combined with $180,000 already in the sheriff’s budget for animal control, the county now has a $430,000 pool of money it's using to negotiate with the Humane Society, but so far there's been no agreement reached.

The county has drafted a request for proposals including a scope of work for animal control services that the county believes are mandated by the state. The county is hoping the Humane Society can continue to provide those services, but it's open to other options.

Conan Smith referenced a letter the county received in October from the Humane Society stating the agency likely would not be able to continue serving the county at the rate of $250,000, but the agency would be interested in helping provide transitional services.

"We took that notice at its face value and have been investigating other opportunities to reach out to folks to provide that transition service in the event that we do need to bid out the animal control services in a more holistic fashion," he said.


Verna McDaniel

County Administrator Verna McDaniel has been investigating options and believes there is at least one entity that could provide animal control services on a transition basis beginning Jan. 1 if negotiations with the Humane Society break down.

"If they're successful, we'll just continue working with the Humane Society of Huron Valley," Conan Smith said. "If they're not successful, we'll begin interim services."

County officials didn't say what other entities the county might be able to contract with.

The county's current contract with the Humane Society amounts to nearly $42,000 per month. With a new budget equal to about half that amount, McDaniel will be able to contract for limited interim services in January without additional board approval, but any long-term contract is expected to come back to the board.

County officials have said repeatedly in recent months they've struggled to get precise cost breakdowns from the Humane Society. Conan Smith said that's going to change.

"I believe it's the intention of everyone involved to bill very explicitly on the services received, on the animals received," he said. "For example, if there's a boarding fee, we'll pay a boarding fee for each individual animal. If there are veterinary services, we'll pay for veterinary service for those that receive it. So the billing is much more detailed to the services being rendered."

In other action, the county board on Wednesday gave final approval to impose the state's new 80/20 rule for health care on five collective bargaining units that have not yet settled new contracts with the county for 2012. Those bargaining units will have until Jan. 1 to settle or else be forced to pay significantly more for their health care.

Republicans Alicia Ping and Dan Smith said they objected to giving the bargaining units until Jan. 1 when other units rushed to beat a previous Sept. 15 deadline.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 5:39 p.m.

I think when we look at animal cruelty in this county, we'll be looking at a picture of the Board of Commissioners as perpetrators. Stop the brutality now.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 3:30 p.m.

What a step backwards. They just want to pay someone for them to euthanize animals. This is just sad. Where does the money for licensing currently go? Is anyone trying to see that more dogs are licensed leading to more money without an increase in taxation, just collecting money that is already due. If they would left the Humane Society take over the licensing of pets, I bet animal control could be self funded. Wouldn't that just make sense.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 1:40 p.m.

As many others have noted - those of us who believe in the services provided by the Humane Society vote. Our friends vote. Our neighbors vote. Our families vote. There are those who would like us to believe that this debate is not as "simple" as it appears. $1.44 per tax payer per annual year seems pretty simple to me. Saving dogs and cats and horses and birds that were someone's "beloved" pet seems simple to me. There are those who would tell you that human services must come first. Seems to me that teaching our children to respect and be responsible in the treatment of our pets is a human service. Seems to me that eliminating the safe reabilitation of stray cats, that can carry serious diseases affecting humans, is a human service. If we want out of control, diseased, feral cat communities that pose a threat to our children - support the commissioners. If we want to be known as a community that executes an innocent stray animal - like what happened to "ACE" in Detroit - support the county commissioners. If we think it's "OK" to drop off our stray animals in rural areas in order to provide them with a better chance than they will have with an entity charged with retaining an animal for 4-7 days before destroying it - support your commissioner. Or, we can remain the progressive, realistic, community we have always been and demand that our commissioners work this out or face the consequences at the voting booth. Don't tell me that we cannot find $1.44 per tax payer for the services and multiple benefits the Humane Society provides to this community. It's not our job as voters to find that money for the commissioners - that's what they were elected to do - hold them accountable for doing their jobs!


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 1:56 a.m.

Are the residents of Washtenaw County comfortable with stray dogs being euthanized instead of being held for adoption? Are they willing to have stray cats roaming their neighborhoods with no place for them to be taken? Are they willing to allow starving horses to be ignored because there isn't money for HSHV's Cruelty and Rescue department to intervene? Is this REALLY what the residents of this county want?


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 7:57 p.m.

Time for a recall. Let start collecting signatures.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 5:44 p.m.

This whole debacle with the Humane Society comes across as a misguided attempt of Mr. Conan Smith's for political leverage and grandstanding. He's picking the wrong issue for these games, and I hope this buffoonish tactic cost him at "face value" at election time. Just pay the Humane Society what they need: they do good work, unlike these horrid commisioners.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 5:43 p.m.

Animals before art. Living things before inanimate objects. City council- You had better work this out. Unfortunately for you , most citizens understand that the HVHS is far and away a better run organization than the city of Ann Arbor.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 5 p.m.

The commissioners are not listening to the people that voted them in. They need to listen to what we are telling them and keep their word and contract with HSHV. The HSHV are doing good work - its proven. We are going to lose as a community if they lose this contract. Get your head out of the sand commissioners - do the right thing.

A2 Cat

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 4:32 p.m.

"Bill explicitly on services received"? That's too funny. Where is the external audit of Ann Arbor Spark, which is set to receive $200,000 in county money? How many jobs have been created, exactly? As for the RFP issued by the county, as Dog Lover noted, the scope of services provided for animal control would be vastly diminished if an agency other than HSHV takes over. According to the RFP, "the County is not requiring [the agency] to hold stray cats, birds or any other animals", and dogs would only be held 4 to 7 days before being euthanized. Contrast this to HSHV, which was recently voted the #1 large shelter in Michigan, with an 80% save rate. I hope the Board of Commissioners realize there will be political ramifications next year if they are indeed successful in opening their dog slaughterhouse.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:50 p.m.

Please take notice that Huron Valley Humane Society very recently provided rabies testing (totally outside their normal services) on three sick and dead skunks, as a simple matter of public protection. In breadth and quality of service HVHS is arguably the foremost such organization in Michigan, and I am sure surpasses most other States' provision for animal compassion, rescue, care and adoption rate of *80-plus per cent*(!). What are the odds of similar service or even concern from the Sheriff's office, at any price? If *your* pet gets lost, strayed, or stolen, what will be his/her odds of survival?


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 11:38 p.m.

P.S. to JNS131: Re your other concern, what we need is an anti-chip, to be implanted just *before* the children move out (while they sleep, of course). Later, when they try to come back, it zaps them as they reach the front porch - just hard enough to discourage them.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 11:22 p.m.

Certainly every pet *should* be chipped, and HVHS chips every animal released for adoption,and "chip-checks" every animal taken in. But some pets, particularly those older, or less formally "adopted", might not have chips; some others might actually have chips that noone bothers to scan.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 4:39 p.m.

This is why you need to chip your pet. A chip is a sure way to make sure your animal gets home safe and sound. Ours are chipped so they will come home. Now they need to find a way to keep children from coming home after they have moved out. Just a thought.

Dog Lover

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:32 p.m.

How did we end up with such inept people on this board? They knew this money was there, yet they put the non-profits through hell in cutting their funding. Now according to Commi Rabhi, the board are the saviors since they found money to restore funding. What a load of crap! The Humane Society debacle is so infuriating. Kristin Judge showed where there is money in our wasteful government before she left the board. This would mean the loss of county paid cell phones, ipads and health care for Commi's that work 8 hours a month. Why are these people still running our county? These issues will not be forgotten come election time next year, especially if they do not make good on the Humane Society contract. We need them to continue providing the excellent service they have always provided - not some organization that just kills stray animals to save money.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

Take some of that stupid "public art" money and give it to the Humane Society so that innocent cats and dogs will not be euthanized after only a few days!


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 4:37 p.m.

I totally agree. The arts can get federal and state money. The animals cannot. Unless they find a way to raise their own funds. We need to speak for the animals and keep the funding viable.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 2:12 p.m.

I guess it wasn't the focus of this article, but people should definitely check out the Request for Proposals the County put out (you can click the link in the article above). It is vastly different from how animals are currently treated in the County. Under the RFP, the County will only pay to take in stray dogs (no cats), and the dogs will be automatically euthanized after 4 or 7 days, depending on if the dog has ID on it. I understand the County doesn't have the funds to keep dogs up for adoption for months, but I don't see why they had to swing to the other extreme. What happened to finding common ground and listening to citizens who contact local government?


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 2:08 p.m.

Did Conan ever pay back the County for the expense money he was not entitled to? I hope voters remember next November.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

Completely different issue and separate funding source (Wash. County vs. City of Ann Arbor), but I'd MUCH rather have a Percent for Puppies Program than Percent for Art. I hope something can be arranged to fully fund HSHV.

Mr. Ed

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 12:23 p.m.

Holding people, unions and the Humane society hostage with money. Good business ethics. Taking money away then giving some back is a way to reduce the budget and make people feel good about what they got. Sales one o one.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 11:39 a.m.

Approve a budget, then amend it weeks later? Comical.