Kent County Levy Court voted unanimously Tuesday night to direct County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange to seek a dog control contract with Safe Haven in Georgetown if an agreement could not be reached with the Kent County SPCA by Wednesday.

Kent County Levy Court voted unanimously Tuesday night to direct County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange to seek a dog control contract with Safe Haven in Georgetown if an agreement could not be reached with the Kent County SPCA by Wednesday.

Petit de Mange had set June 27 as the deadline to declare a procurement emergency given the fact that Kent County faced the prospect of having no dog control as of midnight on Saturday because it could not reach an agreement with Kent County SPCA, he said at Tuesday night’s Levy Court meeting.

Indeed, Petit de Mange submitted a request for a proposal from Safe Haven on Wednesday. There was some discussion Tuesday night as to whether a six-month contract or a one-year contract was appropriate given how state law may change in the near future. But Petit de Mange said Safe Haven officials preferred to have a one-year contract from a business perspective, given the start up costs involved.

Petit de Mange said he had been in discussion with Safe Haven for two weeks. He visited on Monday to tour the brand new, LEED certified building in Georgetown. He was impressed with the building and the people he met.

“There are some pros and cons to a possible relationship,” Petit de Mange said.
“On the pro side, it’s a brand new, state-of-the-art facility. It’s a no kill shelter. There is an emphasis on reunification with the owner as opposed to other options. Their service would be limited to dog control.

“After several meetings and meeting a number of the folks from Safe Haven I feel there is a genuine interest in helping us resolve this problem,” he told Levy Court. “And significant to me and I’m sure to all of you, is Safe Haven’s has indicated a willingness to accept the [2013] price quote that we had previously had for Kent County SPCA at $829,606 for a full year of service if they were so chosen.

On the con side is Safe Haven is located outside of Kent County in Georgetown, Sussex County, which is some distance away, he said.

Kent County had been in a dog control contract with the Kent County SPCA since the last half of the 2010 fiscal year, when the state assigned the counties dog control, Petit de Mange said. That contract had been renewed for one year in 2011 as well as for one year in 2012.

Before 2012 began, Kent County learned Sussex County was paying less money for its respective contract with KCSPCA, somewhere in the neighborhood of about $600,000, Petit de Mange said. He learned from former KCSPCA Executive Director Murrey Goldthwaite that Kent’s contract cost more because it was a seven-day per week contract with more services while Sussex’s was for five days per week, with on call duties on nights and weekends.

In short, Kent Count was able to negotiate a reduction in the annual cost from $829,000 per year to $758,000, Petit de Mange said. However, the KCSPCA later said after a change in leadership that was grounds to not renew the contract for 2013, and attorneys for both sides agreed, he said.

In April, the Kent County SPCA requested more funds from the county when it came time to discuss a 2013 contract in order to meet rising costs associated with the state Companion Animal Protection Act of 2010, which required vaccinations and veterinary care for all animals taken in. Its request for a $1.3 million contract for the 2013 fiscal year was nearly 50 percent more than the amount Kent County Levy Court had budgeted for animal control.

Petit de Mange requested a six-month offer in order to have a contract in place come July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, giving both sides more time to resolve their differences.

On May 18, KCSPCA submitted two six-month proposals to Kent County Levy Court, Petit de Mange said in a memorandum to Levy Court commissioners. One was for $600,082 plus additional expenses for investigations, legal fees and fuel, et cetera. The second was for $462,154 pus additional expenses.

Levy Court countered on June 8 with a $406,764 six-month offer, which included $10,000 in miscellaneous expenses, Petit de Mange said. The KCSPCA Board of Directors reacted by withdrawing both of its prior offers.

Meanwhile, Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta, Commissioner George “Jody” Sweeney and Petit de Mange met with the Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in Georgetown to discuss having it  possibly handle dog control services in Kent County. Safe Haven said it could offer services beginning in mid July.

Petit de Mange said he then met with Kent County SPCA Board President Alex Moore and Executive Director Kevin Usilton on June 20 in an attempt to still negotiate an alternative contract. At that point, Moore and Usilton requested a six-moth contract extension worth $620,000.

Kent County Levy Court rejected that offer Tuesday night as part of the motion to allow Petit de Mange to pursue a contract with Safe Haven.

Banta thanked Petit de Mange for all his efforts.

“There was a serious effort to meet with the actual board of directors rather than hired hands,” Banta said. “Unfortunately, that wouldn’t happen because they could not meet with us until late July. It’s just too bad because people who had the capacity to act weren’t available. Therefore, we ended where we are.”

Sweeney said he was committed to safeguarding taxpayer dollars and he could not commit to granting KCSPCA’s request for more funds without an adequate explanation.

“If I were to go to taxpayers and say we’re going to raise your taxes by 70 percent those taxpayers would be up in arms,” he said. “They’d want to know where we were spending it, why we were spending it, why we can’t we find it from someplace else, who’s causing this and, very likely, the subsequent election I’d be out of here.

“I hold contractors with the county to the same standards. I’ve asked the same questions of the SPCA with no viable response,” Sweeney said.

As for justifying the request for more money, Usilton stood by the state CAPA law as a legitimate reason for the request for more funding. Under CAPA, every animal has to see a veterinarian or vet tech within 72 hours and vaccinated against contagious diseases, among other things.

“The Companion Animal Protection Act was formulated to increase adoption for all animals to ensure they received the care they deserved,” he said. “But it increased expenses for us, because we handle 15,000 animals a year.”

CAPA’s intention was good in that lawmakers sought to reduce the amount of pets being euthanized, but it increased expenses for the SPCA, Usilton said.

Commissioner Bradley Eaby said the SPCA was not a bad organization but Kent County was unable to reach an agreement with it for a number of reasons.

“I think they’re a good organization,” he said. “I think they’ve done a good job for a number of years."

Sweeney echoed those sentiments and expressed regret with the break with KCSPCA. But it was not his money to spend, he said.

In the end, Kent County had to go with its best option on the table, Commissioner Eric Buckson said.

“I’m only sorry that we’re going to stop working with the SPCA because, as a whole, that’s a great organization; there’s no question,” he said. “But, the fact is we couldn’t reach an agreement. “

Safe Haven Executive Director Ann Grisham said her organization was committed to buying or leasing a Kent County facility where owners could claim their dogs conveniently. Those that were unclaimed would be transferred to Sussex County for adoption or rehabilitation, she said.

“Our first goal is reunite pets and owners on the field,” she said.

Safe Haven is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that just opened two months ago after eight years of fundraising, Grisham said.