Riverton to break from Salt Lake County Animal Services by 2018
Salt Lake County Animal Services main shelter. Riverton will discontinue using Salt Lake County Animal Services next year. (Mariden Williams/City Journals)
On June 20, the Riverton City Council passed a motion to end its longstanding contract with Salt Lake County Animal Control in six months' time.
Riverton, having no animal control services of its own and has outsourced animal control to Salt Lake County since 2012. But the county has rewritten the contract, and in so doing dramatically increased the costs for Riverton. Under the new contract, Riverton would pay $287,000 to the county in 2017, which would increase to $346,000 in 2018 and would in 2019 cap out at nearly $411,000.
"The trajectory this is heading on is reaching a breaking point for Riverton's budget," said Interim City Manager Ryan Carter.
The price increases were not without reason, however. At an earlier city council meeting on May 5, Salt Lake County Animal Services representative Talia Butler explained that, for the past several years, a few cities have been carrying all of the service's fixed costs, while only variable costs were passed on to Riverton and other areas. Last year, Kearns paid $15 per resident for the County's services, while Riverton and other areas paid only around $4 to $7 per resident.
"The costs were really askew,” said Butler. “We have to fix it; there's just no other way around it."
The new contract equalizes the price of the County's animal control services across the board. Under it, all cities benefited by Salt Lake County Animal Services will pay about $9.63 per resident.
The new contract has generated some hard feelings amongst the City Council—less due to the cost increase than to the fact that the notice came too late for them to do anything about it. The first the council heard of the cost increases was when it received the new contract on March 24, and unless it was approved by July 1, it would simply expire, leaving Riverton in the lurch.
"They didn't talk about this six months ago,” said Mayor Bill Applegarth. “They didn't give us any advance notice. Nobody contacted us. Nobody came to speak to the Council until after we received the letter and after we were under the bus.”
Councilwoman Tricia Tingey added, "I think we've been put in a spot where we can't make a decision anything other than to join, and that makes me mad."
It should be noted that the service provided by Salt Lake County Animal Services has been exemplary. Over the years the service has operated in Riverton, it has averaged about 41 animal intakes a month, and 97 percent of those animals eventually made it out of the system alive—meaning they were either claimed by their original owners or adopted by new homes.
According to Butler, this is the highest live release rate in the state and among the highest in the nation. It’s a substantial increase over the 73 percent live release rate Riverton maintained before contracting with the county. Additionally, the County offers free microchips and pet vaccines to all residents it serves, and it’s the only 24/7 animal control service in the state.
Former City Manager Lance Blackwood remembers how things were before Riverton first contracted with Salt Lake County Animal Services.
"When we did it ourselves, I spent five to 10 hours a month on animal control problems; people who were upset with the way we handled it," said Blackwood. "I have not received in three years, one complaint—zero. It's a big deal."
Carter said he didn’t take any issue with the quality of the service the county provides.
"But the basic fact remains that we can either afford it, or we cannot," said Carter.
The new contract states that customers may terminate the contract at any time, effective after 180 days' notice. Riverton's City Council, pressured as it was to either approve the contract or suffer the consequences, decided to use this grace period to its advantage. At its June 20 meeting, the council voted unanimously to approve the new contract but with the caveat that on June 3—the first business day after the contract took effect—city officials would immediately submit a 180-day termination notice. The six months granted by the contract will allow the Council enough time to make arrangements so that, when the contract finally ends, Riverton won't be left without animal control.
The council plans to hire two additional ordinance employees to help with animal control once the contract expires. The precise details of these two new employee positions—and the resulting necessary budget changes—are to be discussed at future city council meetings; however, it is estimated that the hiring and training of these employees will not amount to any more than half of what Riverton would have paid had it stayed on the county's contract.