Martin County and the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast will be renewing their contract for a shelter for impounded animals consisting mostly of cats and dogs but also includes ferrets, rabbits, and other companion animals.

In most states including Florida, providing animal control is the province of local governments. The overwhelming majority of these entities are counties. Martin County has determined that the best way to provide for this responsibility is by contracting out the housing of stray and unwanted cats and dogs by signing a contract with a local non-profit.

In 2017, the county did seek bids from others to provide these services. The only bidder at that time was the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast which was selected. There was a 4-year contract which ends on September 30, 2021.

The county chose not to go through the RFP process this time. They are renewing with the Humane Society as a sole source provider. The Martin County Taxpayers Association is examining the following:

  • Is there another non-profit agency that can offer these services?
  • Can Martin County operate its own shelter more economically?
  • Are the terms reached with the Humane Society fair and equitable to the taxpayers of Martin County?

Is there another non-profit agency that can offer these services?

There is no other non-profit agency or for-profit company that can manage the county’s responsibility in this context. Going through the RFP process would have been unproductive. The county has many sole-sourced contracts for other goods and services. This is just an instance of another one.

Can Martin County operate its own shelter more economically?

When the question was posed to county staff, we received the following estimates:

  1. The county would need to purchase 16 acres at a cost of $1.5 million. To construct a building to meet the need would be an additional $9,600,000.
  2. The yearly operational cost would be $1,500,000 for a staff of 25, $600,000 for benefits, and other expenses of $700,000 for a total of $2,800,000.

The county stated that this was a rough idea of capital and operational costs.

We have no idea what sources they used to derive these figures. Answering the questions of can land be found cheaper or the building cost less to build would require much further research than MCTA is able to do. The same is true for determining whether their operational expenses are correct.

We do know one thing. Government seldom does things for less money than the private sector. Recent examination of costs like building fire/rescue stations and beach cafes would suggest that these numbers for Martin County building and operating a shelter would be true.

Are the terms reached with the Humane Society fair and equitable to the taxpayers of Martin County?

When looking at the contract, the first thing to examine is how much is being paid by the county. Currently the amount for 2020/21 is $766,120.65. The new contract begins with a 5% increase to $804,426.68 in year 2021/22. There is then a 2% raise each year until, in year 10, the cost will be $961,364.34.

Over the past three years of the existing contract, the overall number of cats, dogs and other companion animals have gone down each year. The reduction in feline intake is due to the implementation of the TNVR (Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Return) program. Prior to that, feral cats had to be counted as intakes with no solution other than euthanasia available.

A feral cat can seldom be adopted. In Florida, cats can have numerous litters each year due to our hospitable climate. Ferel cats have a life span of 3-5 years. If you trap and sterilize cats in feral communities, then within a generational span the communities cease to exist.

The Humane Society must accept any animal brought in by a Martin County resident. They have not completely stopped euthanizing animals, but the numbers have been reduced substantially since the inception of the current contract in 2017. The ways that euthanasia can occur have also been more humane.

Though the contract increases yearly for a diminishing number of animals, it is at 2% yearly which is at the historic inflation level. Even with the overall decrease in the animal population, the Humane Society still has staff, other operating expenses, and the maintenance of their facility to be considered.

We did notice that there is a separate charge of $21,500 for flea/tick/heartworm testing, treatment, and medication. It seemed to us that should have been part of the contract price and not billed separately. When staff was asked why the separate charge, their answer was the following:

“The Heartworm Meds are not an extra, but rather a separate line item for costs. When the County receives an animal it has been the BCC’s , DACA and now the ACCOB’s direction that the animal should be adopted in the best condition possible. In many instances this includes providing Heartworm, Flea, and Tick treatments. Please consider that the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast (HSTC) is acting as our contractor and is therefore an extension of our organization. Adopting animals with Heartworm, Flea, or Tick issues would reflect poorly on the county.”

That explanation is government speak for this is a way to throw them a bone.

Overall, the Martin County Taxpayers Association finds that the only practical way for the county is to allow the Humane Society to provide these services in lieu of the county. However, this is a ten-year contract which should be revisited in 5 years to see whether the trend continues with fewer animals being surrendered and brought to the facility each year. That should be a basis for a renegotiation.