New contract rejection could close doors at Hope Humane Society

by Tina Alvey Dale ( 2,180 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors agreed to pull an agenda item to renegotiate a contract with Hope Humane Society from Tuesday’s (May 21) regular board meeting — a move that will end the partnership between the city’s animal control and the humane society and could lead to the non-profit organization closing its doors.

Item agenda No. 3 on Tuesday’s agenda is an “ordinance declaring an exceptional situation requiring the waiving of competitive bidding and authorizing execution of a contract with Hope Humane Society for animal impoundment services (formerly Sebastian County Humane Society).” In order for an agenda item to be removed from the agenda, four directors must request that it be removed. At a special study session Monday night (May 20), directors Keith Lau, Andre Good, Robyn Dawson and Kevin Settle requested the item be removed. Directors Lau and Dawson asked that an item be placed on the June 4 agenda for the city to look at separating from the humane society, building a facility to house impounded animals and instituting a pet licensure ordinance for the city.

The proposed contract between the city and Hope that was on the agenda called for the city paying Hope $650,040 dollars annually for impoundment and veterinary services for animals taken to the humane society by Fort Smith animal control. The city’s prior three-year contract with Hope, which ended Dec. 31, had the city paying $18 per day per animal in 2016; $18.50 per day per animal in 2017; and $19 per day per animal in 2018, which added up to around $300,000 a year in expense to the city. The city also pays about $250,000 for animal control. The contract ended Dec. 31, 2018, but directors passed two extensions to the contract that allowed it to stay in place through May 31.

The higher cost for services was needed in order for Hope to be able to make payments needed in order to stay operational, City Administrator Carl Geffken said. Hope has a $500,000 loan through BancorpSouth due in July but not enough funding to pay it off, Director George Castsavis noted at the meeting. Sam Terry, president of the Hope Humane Society Board of Directors, concurred with that information and said the bank will have the right to foreclose if they do not make the payment. The increased contract would also make the payment for services more equitable to Hope, said Raina Rodgers, interim executive director.

“Under the current contract, they (the city) are getting a really good deal,” Rodgers said. “It would be nice to get them up-to-date on the cost.”

Many of the city directors could not agree to pay more than double what they pay now for impoundment costs and wanted to look at options for the city to have its own impound facility. The current $300,000 comes from the city’s general fund. Geffken said the other $350,000 if the contract had been approved would come from the city’s sanitation budget, another aspect that directors did not think was a best practice.

Dr. Nicole Morton, a Fort Smith veterinarian who serves on the Fort Smith Animal Advisory Board, said building and maintaining a city-run pet impoundment facility could be a cost effective alternative to using Hope. She agreed to get the directors information on such a facility.

City directors offered a three-month extension to their contract with Hope while they attempted to find a solution, but Storm Nolan, vice president of the Hope board, said the non-profit was not interested. When asked if the humane society would be able to stay open without the city contract, Nolan said it was highly unlikely.

“Not short of a miracle,” Nolan said. “We’ve been subsidizing the city for decades now with donations from private citizens. And obviously, this is not a direction they want to go.”

Nolan added that Fort Smith residents should know the humane society started because the city had an impoundment facility at the dump many years ago and a group of committed citizens got together, formed the humane society and took over sheltering.

“And that’s why exist, and now we are going full circle,” he said.

Terry told directors Hope would continue its mission as a no-kill pet rescue in some form.

“The HOPE Humane Society board will meet this week to discuss our mission and we will have a statement afterwards,” he said.