After consideration was given in April to join a handful of Eastside cities in forming their own animal control service, the City of Mercer Island reached a better deal with King County for animal control services and City Council authorized the city manager to sign a new three-year deal at a June 18 meeting.
This spring, an ad-hoc City-County Animal Services workgroup met for the past several months to address cities’ concerns about the County’s services and costs. The city issued a statement of intent to renew their contract on April 16 but waited until earlier this week to make it official. Mercer Island City Manager Rich Conrad advised City Council to wait until its larger neighbors — especially Bellevue — made their decision on whether or not to renew the contract.
Councilwoman Tana Senn moved to approve the measure, seconded by Jane Mayer Brahm, and was unanimously approved, 5-0. Councilmembers Mike Cero and Mike Brady.
In the previous agreement, Mercer Island was required to make up the difference in estimated costs for the service after local pet licensing fees and credits were applied. In 2011, Mercer Island paid the county $2,875 after the county collected $55,113 in local pet licensing and applied a $25,157 credit.
Conrad said discontent spread across many Eastside cities in King County because they were contributing most of the licensing revenues but lighly utilizing the service.
"As county tries to allocate the cost, they have a sub-regional competition for fairness," he said.
Last year, King County Animal Control responded to 21 calls. The county only responds on average to 20 calls from an average 120 "animal" calls per year, according to Mercer Island Police Commander Dave Jokinen, who acted as city liason on the animal control contract.This year, the city will pay $2,988.
Local resident and owner Kay Hirai voiced her concerns to City Council in April, complaining that she had witnessed runaway animals locked up in cages, cages piled up to ceiling, animals left unattended for hours getting diseases in confinement and less-than compassionate staff.
"It's a broken system and inhumane to the animals," she said, "I don't think we should stick with it."
Jokinen disagreed at the June 18 meeting and related his visit in May to a county adoption facility in Kent.
"The animals in good condition, clean, and had added more portables." he said. "As a side note, I almost adopted an English Pointer ... a detective with me wanted to get a cat."
Under the new agreement beginning in 2013, King County will assign one animal control officer to the northern district, which includes Mercer Island and eight other cities, and the county will continue to license, control and shelter Mercer Island's animals.
One contract improvement is a change in the way King County charges Mercer Island for animal control services. The new system bases 20 percent of the costs on population size and 80 percent on use. The County’s old system based 50 percent of animal services costs on the city’s population size. The other 50 percent was based on use. The new formula results in a decreased cost to Mercer Island for all three years of the new contract — unlike the current agreement, the service will come with no additional cost to the city.
MIPD Commander Jokinen also recommended the city update local pet licensing requirements to include cats, but City Council took a pass on the regulation update. Acting City Attorney Scott Snyder said the agreement requires the city to modify existing local code to conform with county requirements, which includes licensing pet cats. Snyder also noted, however, that the existing agreement also has the same requirement and King County has never raised the issue with City Hall.
"Which is to say they'll be OK with that," said City Manager Conrad. He also said the city has gone without the requirement for over 30 years.
Approximately 518 residents currently license cats, even though it is not currently required. King County estimates there are 2,500 cats on Mercer Island.
(Ed. Note: An earlier version of this story stated that Mercer Island City Council approved new animal licensing regualations on cat owners on Mercer Island requiring them to license them with King County. That was incorrect: Mercer Island residents will not be required to license pet cats. Mercer Island Patch regrets the error.)