City and County at Odds on Animal Control

City and County at Odds on Animal Control

Two years ago, the National Animal Control Association (NACA) reviewed Birmingham Jefferson County Animal Control (BJC Animal Control). The NACA evaluation determined that there was no independent auditing of BJC Animal Control; some impounded animals lacked medical attention; a surprisingly large number of animals were left dead in their cages at the impoundment facility; dogs and puppies remained in their cages during cleaning (which included spraying the area with bleach and chemicals); there was “very poor” sanitation of feline living quarters; and some animals were euthanized with intercardiac injections (directly into the heart) without being sedated first. NACA also discovered that euthanasia had been conducted in the holding area in the presence of other animals (and in view of visitors to the facility on at least one occasion). BJC Animal Control had also failed to verify that euthanized animals were actually dead. According to BJC Animal Control Director Steve Smith, management addressed each problem and implemented new procedures.

The Birmingham/Jefferson County animal control contract, which has been held by Smith since 1997, expired September 2002, and has been extended since then on a temporary basis while several versions of the Request For Proposal (RFP), which details qualifications for bidders, have been considered. The city of Birmingham, which is responsible for nearly three-quarters of the funding, and Jefferson County, which oversees the contract, have been in disagreement over contract details. The Jefferson County Commission sent out updated RFP versions for prospective bidders on March 12.

Birmingham City Councilor Valerie Abbott, who presented a resolution approved by the City Council in July 2003 that sought to include council input in the selection and approval process for the animal control provider, expressed frustration that the council was not included when the RFP was initially drafted, especially because Birmingham currently has the major financial stake in the animal control contract. BJC Animal Control budget projections for Fiscal Year 2003 (based on 2001 and 2002 budget reports) stated that Birmingham paid approximately $733,000 for animal control services, while Jefferson County paid $327,000.

Though some City Council recommendations were eventually included, Abbott remained disturbed by “the very, very short time frame [four-weeks] currently in place for prospective bidders to bid on the animal control contract.” The councilor explained, “That’s still insufficient time for people to put together proposals, get copies of all the applicable state, county, and local laws that apply . . . Normally you would allow months, not weeks, for someone to put together a proposal.” [The RFP had been listed on the Jefferson County Commission's web site for eight weeks prior to being sent out to prospective bidders.] Abbott also complained that a sufficient audit has not been performed on BJC Animal Control. “We’ve never had a central audit. We’ve asked for one, and what we got was a budget,” she said of a March 20, 2003, financial evaluation by Mann, Poarch, Miller, & Key, P.C. “The county somehow thinks that everyone in the city of Birmingham is asleep at the wheel. They sent over this budget and said it was an audit . . . It was totally meaningless,” said Abbott. “We have no way of knowing how much of the money that the current vendor gets is profit, and how much actually goes to providing animal control. [BJC Animal Control is a "for-profit" organization, which is uncommon for an animal control provider, according to the 2001 NACA evaluation.] “The whole idea of doing a new RFP is to get some new proposals. If you’re not going to request proposals from somebody besides the guy you already have, what’s the point? And especially if you’re not going to audit the current vendor to find whether he is being a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollars,” the councilor added.

On Sunday, March 14, the Birmingham News reported that the city and county had reached agreement on the bid specifications for the new contract RFP that was sent out March 12. “[That] might be stretching it a little bit,” said Mayor Kincaid of the reported accord between the two entities. Noting that the city had requested that the issuance of bid proposals be delayed, Kincaid added, “It is my personal feeling that we are not getting our money’s worth.” The Mayor would not rule out the possibility that Birmingham may decide to contract animal control without the County Commission’s involvement. Kincaid said that the county should have given the city more input into the contract, considering that the city contributes the majority of the funding. “That has been a sore spot,” said the Mayor. “We might have had a little bit better dialogue.”

Councilor Valerie Abbott was more direct in her criticism of the County Commission’s lack of consideration for the city of Birmingham. “I am just absolutely appalled at the behavior of the people at the county,” said Abbott, who also acknowledged that Birmingham may undertake animal control independent of the county. “We certainly don’t think we’re getting good service now. And with the attitude of the people at the county, there’s not really any incentive for us to continue to partner with them, because I don’t consider them to be very good partners . . . They’re awfully arrogant and high-handed. That just seems to be the way that they do business.” &

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