Berea, county officials mull options to address animal control costs

Madison County officials say they want to maintain the level of service at the Madison County Animal Shelter but they need Berea and Richmond to help shoulder the costs. 

Officials from the City of Berea and Madison County agree that services rendered by county animal control are a necessity. But precisely how to pay for those services was a matter for discussion last week at a special called meeting of the Berea City Council.

At issue was whether Berea will pay $32,433 for animal control services rendered in 2018-2019. Under a formula submitted by the county, that is 10% of the cost of animal control services in Madison. The county has paid $210,816 and the City of Richmond has paid $81,083 for that service period. So far, the City of Berea budgeted $7,500 for that service.

Madison County Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor said the county is seeking to recoup the costs of animal control services because skyrocketing costs related to the drug epidemic are straining county resources.

“We’re in a time when we’ve got a lot of expenditures that are taking a huge toll on all of us,” Taylor said. “The indictment numbers continue to rise, our court numbers continue to rise, our jail numbers continue to rise. This drug epidemic is really putting a hurt on us all.”

In her presentation, Madison County Deputy Judge/Executive Colleen Chaney further noted there’s a growing gap between the expectations of residents for animal control services and the county’s ability to pay for them. The original mission of county animal control services, dating back to the 1950s, was to control rabies. The scope of that mission has expanded, including investigation of animal cruelty cases, picking up stray dogs (and cats if rabies is suspected), livestock and poultry disease control, animal protection, dog licensing, euthanizing animals, assisting law enforcement with animals, and facilitating spay and neutering, microchipping, and animal adoption.

Chaney said as services have expanded, other entities need to shoulder the cost. “We just simply cannot continue to operate at a level we currently are without assistance,” Chaney said. “We can’t do that level of service without funding.”

At one point in the discussion, the topic turned to dog license fees as a source of revenue. Dog licenses cost $5, but Chaney noted it is estimated that less than 10% of county pet owners purchase licenses, though it is required by law. Caudill suggested the city could help remedy that.

“We should do a better job of having people pay their county fees,” Caudill said. “We [Berea] could do more work in getting people to pay them.” Caudill also recommended the formation of a committee to promote more participation in the county funded spay and neuter program. Judge Taylor noted that if more pet owners took advantage of that opportunity, the stray animal population would taper off, and animal control costs in Madison County would eventually go down.

Berea City Council member David Rowlette, meanwhile, suggested the possibility of the county creating a pet cemetery, using fees from that facility to support county animal control efforts.

Continuing on the issue of alternate funding sources, council member Ronnie Terrill questioned why the county doesn’t raise taxes to cover costs. Taylor responded he would prefer to exhaust other possible solutions before suggesting a tax hike. “I feel it’s my duty to make that a last resort,” Taylor said.

Council member Emily LaDouceur asked if the payment structure can be changed to help reduce costs, such as billing the city for individual services. Chaney replied Berea could pursue a number of options, including keeping the option to pay a percentage for county services, adopting an ala carte system of paying as services are used, employing a contractor for animal control, or simply having the City of Berea assume animal control operations within city limits.

LaDouceur said she supported the idea of paying the $32,000 as requested for services already rendered, but that she wants to see more detailed data and billing information in the future.

In closing, Caudill said he hopes the city and the county would continue working together on the issue. Said Caudill: “I would say that the more we meet as a group, on any subject, the better.”

Officials from the City of Berea and Madison County will meet again in January on a date to be announced.

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