Updated: September 9, 2011 at 12:00 am
The idea of instituting a regional approach for animal control has been batted around like a toy mouse on the end of a stick for years.
The concept now is gaining momentum among city and county officials, who say it’s time to consolidate service contracts with the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, standardize fees, improve licensing compliance and launch a joint effort to educate people about responsible pet ownership.
“It’s a very serious situation in our community, and economics are playing a major role in animal control management,” said El Paso County Administrator Jeff Greene.
He was one of several local leaders who met recently to discuss the topic, as part of an ad hoc task force created earlier this year. The task force is part of a new stab government agencies are taking at saving money by eliminating duplicated programs and sharing resources.
The current system of how the Humane Society responds to calls for suspected abuse and neglect, lost pets and aggressive animals is confusing, said Jan McHugh-Smith, the organization’s president and CEO.
“It’s complex; we’re never talking in the same terms,” she said.
The Humane Society contracts independently with the cities of Colorado Springs, Fountain, Monument and Centennial, and unincorporated El Paso County, Pueblo County and a portion of Douglas County. Each contract is different and provides varying levels of service.
County residents in densely populated areas, including Ute Pass, Woodmoor, Cimarron Hills, Widefield and Security, are covered. Some communities, including the Air Force Academy and Fort Carson, hire other contractors to handle animal control.
But residents in large chunks of unincorporated El Paso County — primarily outlying and sparsely populated area — have opted to not participate. That means they don’t have to license their pets, and calls for dangerous animals or strays are fielded through the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, not the Humane Society.
The problem: Residents often don’t know if they don’t live in the area of coverage and contact the Humane Society for assistance with dangerous, wayward or rabid animals, McHugh-Smith said. According to the county’s contract, the organization cannot respond to those calls. McHugh-Smith said the Humane Society works with the sheriff’s office, if needed, but it would be easier if there weren’t geographic boundaries smattered throughout the county.
“We could further streamline if areas of enforcement were clearer,” she said.
El Paso County spokesman Dave Rose agrees, saying county officials favor a single contract. If that were in place, he said, both sheriff’s deputies and county health department staff would be freed up because the Humane Society would be the first to respond to animal control complaints.
Not all residents want to be included, though, said Commission Chairwoman Amy Lathen.
“For the most part, my constituents have not been supportive of expanding the (service) boundaries,” said Lathen, who represents the county’s eastern plains.
Some residents of unincorporated Falcon have indicated they may want to do that, she said, because population growth is causing problems with animals, Lathen said.
In order to extend the boundary, the majority of residents of an area must agree, and county commissioners must approve the request and provide more funding to the Humane Society.
The last time that happened was in August 2007, when property owners in the Highland Park subdivision, north of Woodmen Road between Black Forest and Vollmer roads, asked to be included in the county’s animal control area.
Country folk usually don’t want to have more rules imposed on them, said Judy von Ahlefeldt, a 41-year resident of Black Forest, an unincorporated town, and publisher of the Black Forest News.
“There’s an underlying philosophy that’s part of the rural freedom to not have to comply with those types of regulations,” she said. “I’m not in favor of it.”
Plus, rural residents often accumulate stray animals, which would be expensive to license.
“This has come up a lot. It’s an additional burden people just don’t think is necessary,” she said.
Residents outside city limits often take care of problem animals on their own, von Ahlefeldt said.
“A lot of times people just shoot them, which you don’t have in the city. Licensing isn’t going to help, and I don’t see us having the money to enforce it,” she said.
Licensing also is disjointed. Pet owners outside the service areas do not have to license their animals. In the county’s service area, only dogs are required to be licensed. The city of Colorado Springs requires that dogs and cats be licensed. Revenue from cat licensing funds a feral cat control program, McHugh-Smith said.
Local compliance with licensing laws is 26 percent, which is higher than the national average of under 20 percent but, “has room for improvement,” she said, and would increase revenue for the shelter.
Another area of discontent is that Colorado Springs residents pay about 78 cents per person more a year for animal control services because they pay both city and county taxes, for a total of $4.33 per citizen, compared with $3.55 per person for residents of the unincorporated county.
And the city of Colorado Springs gets reimbursed $300,000 in licensing fees, which goes to the city’s general fund; the county does not get a refund on licensing fees. The city pays about $1.2 million annually for its service contract; the county’s contribution is about $455,000.
City Councilman Tim Leigh, who’s also on the task force, said a solution to make the costs more equitable is needed.
“The Humane Society is a vendor with different customers who are the same taxpayer base. What we have to do is figure out how to share the costs fairly and with no regard to the governmental jurisdictions,” he said. “People don’t want to overpay for a service they don’t feel they’re getting.”
The next step for task force members is to review all jurisdictions’ contracts with the Humane Society, do cost comparisons and establish actual costs of service, Greene said. No decisions will be made for the 2012 budget year though, McHugh-Smith said.
“The city and the county have a responsibility to provide animal control, and citizens have the right to know the true cost. We need to define the level of service the city and county are requiring and develop a regional formula of cost, whether you live in Fountain, Monument or unincorporated El Paso County,” Greene said.