Mercer Island Council supports teaming with Bellevue on animal control

A dog waits for adoption at the Seattle Humane Society shelter in Factoria, October 2009. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
A dog waits for adoption at the Seattle Humane Society shelter in Factoria, October 2009.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

If all goes as planned, Islanders will be working with the city of Bellevue when it comes to animal control. During its April 19 meeting, the City Council voiced support for a joint, sub-regional animal control services program with Bellevue. This comes in the wake of King County’s decision to discontinue its animal control services as of June 30 due to budget constraints.

In the past, King County has subsidized this service to contracted cities at an annual cost of approximately $1.9 million. Yet once June 30 rolls around, cities will be forced to implement their own programs.

This is why Mercer Island staff has been working with King County to develop four animal service control proposals: a joint cities-county model, a joint sub-regional model with Bellevue, self-provided animal services by the city of Mercer Island, or no animal services at all.

Under the joint cities-county model, King County would be divided into four districts, each staffed by at least one animal control officer. Stray or abandoned animals would be housed at a nonprofit shelter in Lynnwood or at the King County shelter in Kent.

The more cities that participate in this system, the lower the costs for everyone. With a total program cost to cities estimated at $4.1 million, after the license fees are credited back, the net cost is estimated at $1.9 million. The cost for Mercer Island, which is based on license fee collection, is estimated to be $26,385 per year.

Under the sub-regional model, the city of Bellevue would oversee a program that includes Bellevue, Clyde Hill, Kirkland, Mercer Island and Redmond. Bellevue would be working with the animal licensing company Pet Data, and would hire two full time animal control officers for the region. The Seattle Humane Society would provide animal shelter services. If all five communities participate in the sub-regional model, the cost to Mercer Island is estimated to be $14,000 annually.

The option of running an independent animal control service on Mercer Island was also put on the table. The city would have to hire an in-house animal control officer, administered and supported by the police department. A private sector pet license vendor would manage pet licensing and the Seattle Humane Society would provide shelter services. Estimated costs fall around $45,000 for start-up and $42,000 for continuing operation.

The final option would be to have no Mercer Island animal control services. This means that Islanders with animal problems would have to call the appropriate private agency and incur the cost themselves. The Mercer Island Police department would get involved only when responding to a dangerous animal call.

In reviewing all four options, Councilmembers placed the highest priority on financial feasibility, according to Deputy City Manager James Mason.

“It just really comes down to one thing: cost,” he said.

In they end, Councilmembers chose the joint sub-regional model with Bellevue because it is the most affordable at $14,000 a year.

This option, however, is contingent upon what the Bellevue City Council decides on May 3. Island Councilmembers have faith that Bellevue will take the lead and vote to run a regional program with its four regional jurisdictions. If Bellevue votes against the idea, however, the regional model may be withdrawn.

Mason said there are due concerns involved.

“The biggest challenge in animal control is coming up with a budget number and being able to stick to that,” he said. “Bellevue wants to find out where is that tipping point? How little will it cost us to cover this service?”

As far as Mercer Island’s demand for animal control services, Mason described it as “pretty benign.”

“Our issues are more about our family pets,” he said, adding that Mercer Island Police officers are largely in charge of enforcing Island leash laws, dealing with barking complaints and other domestic pet issues.

In the past three years, King County Animal Control has received an average of 86 calls annually from Island residents. An average of 29 Island animals have been sheltered annually since 2007, according to King County numbers.

For more information on all four animal control options, search the City Council's April 19 agenda items at the city Web site:

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