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Posted on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Washtenaw County to ask local municipalities to help share the cost of animal control services

By Ryan J. Stanton

Now that Washtenaw County has worked out a deal with the Humane Society of Huron Valley to fund animal control services through 2012, one question remains.

What happens in 2013?

The county is mandated to provide certain animal control services, and county officials acknowledge the Humane Society is the only qualified provider in the county.

But county officials say they aren't going to let that stop them from putting out a request for proposals later this year and considering all options for animal control services in 2013.

Entering into a $415,000 contract with the Humane Society carrying through the end of this year — a move approved by the county board Wednesday night — provides the county ample time to evaluate animal control costs, as well as other potential providers, said County Board Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor.


The county is looking into partnering with other local jurisdictions like the city of Ann Arbor to share the cost of animal control services, including housing stray dogs at the Humane Society's shelter.

Jeff Sainlar |

The Humane Society has agreed to work with the county through a process to be led by the Sheriff's Office to come up with a new method to determine the cost of an "animal service unit."

The county is creating a committee to review the findings and recommend a final cost methodology and animal control services budget for 2013.

In addition, the county is looking into partnering with other local jurisdictions like the city of Ann Arbor to share the financial burden.

Smith said a number of local jurisdictions in Washtenaw County, including the city of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Township, have adopted local animal control ordinances. And per those ordinances and state law, they are responsible for animal control services.

He said it's imperative for the county to meet with those jurisdictions to understand their needs and reach a solution.

Smith said the county is providing animal control services in local jurisdictions without compensation.

"It's definitely a partnership between our law enforcement agencies, so I don't want to give the impression that we're out picking up every cat and dog in Ypsi Township and Ann Arbor city, but certainly we're covering the cost of their shelter at the Humane Society," he said.

Smith said the county is considering asking municipalities for compensation should the county, for example, pick up stray cats and dogs in their jurisdictions.

"Or having them just participate in sort of a flat-rate basis in the contract so that we can maximize the services that are provided across the county," he said.

"One of the scenarios that happens pretty frequently right now is Ann Arbor city officials will come in and capture a stray animal or a wild animal, they'll bring it out to the Humane Society, and really it's the county's financial burden and the Humane Society's because they significantly subsidize the service," Smith said.

And so the question is: Can the local jurisdictions share some of that burden?

Asked whether local officials have been approached about that idea yet, Smith said there have been only loose background conversations.

"We wanted to make sure folks knew that this is one of the conversations we have to have so they can start thinking about it," he said. "But there's been no proposal at this point."

Ending months of uncertainty about the future of local animal control services, at least for this year, the county board voted 10-0 Wednesday night to approve a new agreement to have the Humane Society provide animal control services through Dec. 31.

The board agreed to authorize an additional expenditure of $165,000 for a total contract amount of $415,000. The services provided under the new contract will be identical to those provided under the previous contract with the Humane Society.

The Humane Society's last contract with the county — worth $500,000 annually — ended Dec. 31 and services had been provided on a temporary basis since Jan. 1.

Faced with a $17.5 million structural deficit, the county's administration several months ago proposed reducing the annual allocation to the Humane Society from $500,000 to $250,000, but the agency balked at that offer and that led to arguments that dragged on for months.

"We are now at a point that can truly serve as a stepping stone for a new relationship," said Mark Heusel, vice president of the Human Society's board of directors. "I'm confident that we can strike a relationship that is long-lasting and will move beyond 2012."

Washtenaw County and the Humane Society have partnered for more than 20 years to meet the county's mandate for animal control services and the society's mission for the humane treatment of animals. Smith said the county's financial situation in the past has been such that it did not have to ask local jurisdictions to help pay for animal control services.

"So there's a tough policy and budget set of questions that they're going to have to grapple with," he said. "One of their options is to get rid of their ordinance, in which case the full burden falls on the county. But the county is only responsible for a certain subset of services."

Smith pointed to what happened in Ferndale, where he works as executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. He said the city decided to forgo its animal control ordinance and now Oakland County does only dog control, not cat control.

"And Ferndale now has a feral cat problem," he said. "The same thing might manifest in our communities if we don't come up with a more creative solution."

Commissioner Dan Smith, R-Northfield Township, said he's glad the county is able to continue contracting with the Humane Society. But he had concerns Wednesday that the county is dipping $165,000 into its cash reserves while it still faces a large deficit in 2014.

"We are facing severe financial constraints," he said.

Commissioner Alicia Ping, R-Saline, was absent from the meeting.

County officials pointed out that in 2007 the county board authorized a one-time payment of $1 million for assistance in constructing a new animal shelter for the Humane Society.

The county offered its bonding authority in order to provide the Humane Society with lower-cost financing to construct its facility. The county also began gradually increasing its annual contributions to the agency beginning in 2008, ramping up to last year's $500,000.

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 email newsletters.



Tue, Feb 21, 2012 : 4:50 a.m.

17.5 million short, cut your employee costs, car allowances, health care costs. Can't do it because of union contracts? file for bankruptcy or get an EFM in there to manage your business.

Dog Lover

Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 3:09 a.m.

"But county officials say they aren't going to let that stop them from putting out a request for proposals later this year and considering all options for animal control services in 2013." That is IF these clowns get re-elected. This issue and others has highlighted how inept our BOC is and how terrible Conan's leadership is. Yousef will need to find a real job starting in 2013.

Les Gov

Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 5:15 p.m.

We have animal control in Washtenaw County??? I doubt it!! I have a rather large dog that runs through my yard on a daily basis. No one in the county will do anything about it. No one in the township will do anything about it. What I have learned is that leash laws only apply to a few......Isn't it interesting when and how government employees decide to enforce the laws? Perhaps there is some reward for not enforcing laws on certain people?


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 3:05 p.m.

Smith said the county is providing animal control services in local jurisdictions without compensation. Really? Than what is this line in my tax bill about? WASH COUNTY OPER 4.549300 What this guyis really saying is he wants to charge me twice, but if I lived in Dixboro, I would get charged once? WTH?

Tom Whitaker

Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:51 p.m.

Conan Smith created a new County tax from an antiquated state law just to help throw more money at his buddies at SPARK, yet did not require any financial reports or any measured results from them in return. Why is he putting the Humane Society through the wringer when their results are plain to see? SPARK is already being fed millions by the State, Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti, and use a good chunk of that to pay their exorbitant salaries and automobile allowances. Why are they not forced to grovel at Smith's feet like the Humane Society or worse, human services providers who also are having their funding cut? There were no budget cuts for SPARK. Why not? It's time that all our governments; State, City and County stopped flushing our tax money down the toilet of these so-called "economic development" ponzi schemes. Where is the "dashboard" for SPARK, the LDFA, and MEDC? Where is the effort to find "other potential providers" for economic development services? Why is local government in the economic development business in the first place? Let the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau and all the various business associations take care of that. Provide good basic services, quality schools, a clean environment, good roads and parks, and businesses will want to locate and expand here.

Tom Whitaker

Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 2:48 a.m.

When the State is giving millions to SPARK, there is absolutely no reason why the County (and the LDFA) need to be padding their wallets. You say there are controls, then let's see them. Demand that all their financial reports be made public and share them with those of us who are being forced--by your obscurely authorized, non-voter-supported millage--to pay their exorbitant salaries. I'll be here holding my breath...

Conan Smith

Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 12:06 a.m.

Tom, the HSHV asked in a letter to us last fall to be moved out of the Outside Agency funding stream and to be treated as a mandated-service provider for the County. This comes with a different set of expectations for information and accountability. We are working collaboratively (not coercively) with HSHV to determine those metrics and reporting objectives. The County contribution to Ann Arbor SPARK is funded via a specific millage-generated grant, similar to how the Convention and Visitors Bureaus are funded. We do have accountability structures in place for them, and our Administrator sits on their governing board to ensure oversight. They did, in fact, take a cut to their budget this year as well.

Tony Livingston

Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:49 p.m.

The last time I checked, Ann Arbor was part of Washtenaw County and any county taxes levied were also levied in the city of Ann Arbor. It has gotten very old to continually go to Ann Arbor property owners to subsidize everyone else. This is another fee I would vote against, along with the buses system they are proposing.


Tue, Feb 21, 2012 : 4:55 a.m.

ownership "changes" occur


Tue, Feb 21, 2012 : 4:54 a.m.

In addition to this fiasco the Ann Arbor Assessor tends to overvalue properties, and fails to reduce taxes appropriately when ownership occurs. So Ann Arbor property owners are already paying inflated taxes. Check out your values and appeal your valuations.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 12:16 a.m.

hey want money take some of the 1.6 mil the art commission has in the bank. art before humane society is a poor choice.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 10:47 p.m.

Amen! A couple of days after the City has finally had some good budgetary news, we hear this.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.

If the HSHV wasn't offering low-cost sterilization options, we would have a much more expensive problem in the county with the handling of and disposing of unwanted pets/nusiance strays. If the county does not want to fulfill a contract with HSHV, then spay neuter/community education should be prominent in the budget. The overpopulation problem so often starts with people who don't fix their animals. This also happens in rural areas, farms, and horse stables where cats are used as mousers. Unfortunately, prevention is secondary to cleaning up, budget-wise. The problem will grow if put on the backburner.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

I am tired of people saying how nice and big the humane society is. When you rebuild you rebuild for many years to come. How about the city hall?. How about uofm Mott? Sure comparing these to the humane society are not apples to apples. It is the thought that I am trying to get across. You don't build something that you have to do again in a few years. People should have to pay more if they want to keep this open. You get people who drop off the dogs from other counties. Whom do I blame I blame the owners. They do not care about them when they drop them off. Some people cannot afford to keep them. We need to help the society out. How I do not know?. I am sure the surrounding counties are also hard for money. what happens if we lose the humane society servicers. you got a area of runining dogs like detroit?

A Voice of Reason

Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

Washtenaw County--why don't you cut benefits of county employees , vs. services like the Humane Society. LEAD for once!!!!

Lake Trout

Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

If you were better informed, you would know that county employees have ALREADY had their pay cut - and they were consession voted on by the employees with consideration of the current economy, so your statement is not valid.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

I believe that you can make judgements to a society based upon how they treat animals. I fully support activities to deal humanely with stray animals. that being said, the Hilton hotel they have for the Human Society seems to be overkill. In my opinion, the Human Society of Huron Valley is becoming an entity designed to keep administrators working.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 12:15 a.m.

how about hotel city hall.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

hilton hotel?? it is a well designed place that's efficiently laid out for caregivers ( one of which i am) and comfortable for the animals.. and this is bad why?? the staff, and high volunteer levels, needed to keep all systems running, and be able to cope with the varied quick-response crises that arise all the time fully warrant the space, non frivolous and functional amenities and funding HSHV enjoys.

Lake Trout

Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 1:45 p.m.

Commissioner Dan Smith, R-Northfield Township, said he's glad the county is able to continue contracting with the Humane Society. But he had concerns Wednesday that the county is dipping $165,000 into its cash reserves while it still faces a large deficit in 2014. I find it very disturbing that Mr Smith makes this statement, but turns right around and votes for increased pay for 4 already very well paid administrative employees and at the expense of all employees that agreed to pay cuts, no raises and 10 unpaid furlough days. This is the definition of being "2-faced" in my books.

Jim Osborn

Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 12:04 p.m.

Is the charge to be different if an animal is brought in from Ann arbor or Saline or Pittsfield Twp? In not, then why not a county wide charge via a county wide property tax. Or. to be fair. of the outer locations do not use it as much, then they should pay at a lower rate. I suspect that the cities use it at a higher rate, but I could be very wrong. Facts would be useful, but are missing from this discussion. Does Mr. Smith even know at this point? I hope he finds out.

Conan Smith

Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 11:57 p.m.

I don't believe that the fee would be different for any resident of the county. In essence this service is paid for by two sources: 1) a county-wide general-fund millage and 2) animal licensing fees, so the costs are as equitably distributed as our tools allow. The data, Jim, will be very useful for both policy makers and providers. This new working group under the Sheriff will allow us to define the questions we need to answer to create an optimally effective policy and get the information to make better-informed decisions. In short, this move by the BOC provides both us and the HSHV the breathing room necessary to design really good solutions to our animal welfare challenges.

Pixie Belle

Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 3:57 p.m.

@flamers You have got to be kidding how am I the responsible pet owner with two adopted cats who are both fixed contributing to the problem? You should be more concerned about convincing people they should get there pets fixed and chiped. Less animals more owner responsibility. I rent an apartment and I pay property tax.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

@no flamers You have no idea what you are talking about. How do you propose this works? Feral cats are NOT under control or ownership of anybody. A person, say maybe a STUDENT (I think there are some in the country) has a pet. They move to a new job in say Chicago. The pet is left abandoned. The fact is, animal control helps ALL residents of the city, not just pet owners. Governments build sidewalks even for those that do not walk on them, and they build streets that many people do not drive on. The realistic way to do this IS with property tax. Renters DO pay property tax through their rent. SOMEBODY owns the property and has to pay it. All land in Washtenaw county is owned.

no flamers!

Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

The problem with a property tax is that only a 1/3 of County residents own property, so 1/3 pays for 3/3 of the problem. The problem arises from pet ownership, not property ownership. So funding the solution should be focused on the activity that causes the problem--raise the money necessary to pay for animal control through fees on pet ownership.

Jim Osborn

Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.

Oops, tyos "''If not... and Or, to be fair to the other locations..."


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 11:31 a.m.

How many animals could be cared for if Mr. Smith repaid what he owes the taxpayers?