A new public-private partnership is in the works in Newton County, Indiana aimed at taking some of the responsibilities of animal control from the cash-strapped government and handing them to an animal welfare organization. Next week, a deal is expected to be announced with a non-profit organization that will shift the management of Newton County’s Animal Control’s day-to-day operations from the county.
“Our action was to go from three full-time to one full and one part-time employee,” says Commissioner Kyle Conrad. “The director, Barb Avila, notified us of her resignation a week later. The intent was not to deplete the entire staff. Barb’s resignation did allow other opportunities to present themselves, but also caused us to have a less than ideal transition. We were hoping to eventually get where we will be, but thought we wouldn’t have to move so swiftly.”
As news spread about changes in Newton County’s Animal Control due to the budget cuts, concern was growing with animal welfare organizations about the well being of the animals. Newton County in Morocco, Ind. operates as both an animal control and an animal shelter, taking in strays and owner relinquished pets and adopting out animals as well.
“When animal control was first formed, it was a part time position that has grown to three full time positions,” says Conrad, who was county clerk at the time that animal control was created. “Animal control was designed to handle threatening or aggressive animals. It evolved over the years to a humane society and rescue. I’m not against that, I just am not convinced that it is the place of our government to provide that part of the service.”
Like many municipalities and government bodies, Newton County is facing a major budget shortfall – $1.2 million in a county of 15,000 people. Several years ago, Indiana passed a constitutional amendment that limits county and municipal tax levies. With revenues dropping and the economy still struggling, the county has had to make some tough decisions that include major budget and staffing cuts pretty much across the board, including the sheriff’s department. The current shortfall has been looming for several years.
Conrad says that 80 percent of the animal control budget was going to salaries and benefits. In many communities, the animal shelters or humane societies are run by non-profits with much of the staffing done by volunteers. The county will shift the budget that remains to help with some of the animal care performed by the non-profit.
“I think it’s important to provide protection as the department was originally designated,” adds Conrad. “However, there are non-profits that raise their own funds and use most of that money – 70 percent – to take care of the animals. They pull in volunteers to care for and run the organization without using as many public dollars. We’ll now be offering more and able to do a lot more for the animals and costing taxpayers less.”
The building department will take on animal control duties, answering calls about animals and the non-profit will do the rest. One employee in that department worked as an animal control officer for several years. Conrad says that there had been a drop off in response to animal emergency calls the past several years and he expects that to be rectified under the new system.
The county expects to sign a contract for their partnership next week. Last year, animal control took in 756 animals and euthanized 51. That is expected to change under the new partnership as the group starts to work toward a zero euthanasia rates.
“The non-profit will be running the shelter and working to find homes for as many animals as they can or network animals to other rescues,” says Conrad. “They asked me who will make the decision on when and if an animal should be euthanized and it will be their responsibility. I don’t want to be the one to make the call and neither does the building department. This organization does this because they have a passion for animals and they will rehabilitate and find homes for them. We are not in the business of killing animals.”
“The only difference the public will see is a cut in spending,” he adds. “The shelter may be open fewer days at first. However, it’s the goal to eventually be opened on Saturdays – which we don’t do know because it’s a county job. Pets will still be spayed/neutered, microchipped and updated on vaccines prior to adoption.”
The new board took over on January 2 immediately started focusing on the budget shortfall. Conrad says they outlined this plan at that meeting. Conrad’s family shares their home with a rescue dog. I’ll provide an update with the partner rescue next week after it’s announced.
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