Animal lovers have their hackles up following the Marana Town Council’s decision to end the town’s relationship with Pima County Animal Care Center and instead create its own animal services division.
The town council voted 5-2 to end create the new department on March 14 after hearing presentations about keeping the county service or starting a Marana animal-control department and hearing from seven members of the public, who all supported maintaining the contract with the county. A week later, the council voted 5-2 to spend $159,000 to have the new division up and running on July 1. Council members Herb Kai and Roxanne Ziegler voted against both issues.
A normally civil council became heated at times when Ziegler and Vice Mayor Jon Post argued about the subject. Ziegler called into question voting on the subject at the March 14 study session and asked for documentation on complaints of poor service by PACC.
“I’ve asked for the letters, I’ve asked for the complaints and all I have heard is anecdotal evidence,” Ziegler said.
Post argued that it has been something that has been discussed for some time and that this was not a new issue.
“We’ve been discussing this since 2009, the first year they gave us a bill,” Post said, mentioning he was not pleased when they started to see the charges climb.”
Why The Change
Council members who supported the plan say they decided to break from the county because of rising costs and a sense that the service level wasn’t acceptable. The town has seen their bill from the country rise from $10,000 to $230,000 in less than a decade. The county’s decision to move away from euthanizing animals and build a new animal-care facility have led to higher costs, which have been passed on to local jurisdictions, including Marana.
But Marana officials say that the county hasn’t been providing good service to Marana. Mayor Ed Honea, Vice Mayor Jon Post and town staffers all gave anecdotal examples of animal control officers not responding to calls in the Marana area. This was somewhat disputed by Ziegler and some of the speakers.
“They have raised our bill enough that we decided that we can offer a better service for that amount of money,” Post said.
As the town has seen the costs of animal control services from the county rise, officials claim they have seen no improvements in service. Davidson was especially upset over the fact that residents of Marana—along with Tucson, Oro Valley and Sahuarita—are essentially charged twice for the same service that residents of unincorporated Pima County are charged once for the same services. All residents of Pima County fund PACC through their property taxes, but the local municipalities are also charged for PACC services.
After Marana moved to contract with the Humane Society, Sahuarita also inquired about utilizing the Humane Society and leaving PACC.
Opponents of the move point out that Marana and other jurisdictions chose not to fund additional county animal control officers.
Are Animals In Danger?
Two of the biggest concerns from the public with the move are in the care for animals. Several of the people who spoke at the meetings were concerned with the care of sick or injured animals, especially in off hours when the Humane Society does not provide emergency veterinary services. Town officials plans to sign agreements with vets in or near the town to provide emergency veterinary services, but as of the second meeting no contracts had been signed.
Davidson said that the timeframes to getting an animal to PACC or getting an animal to a vet are about the same, and may be faster depending on the location of the vet. Marana Mayor Ed Honea echoed that argument, saying the the county’s slow response could have led to the death of stray animals.
“How many animals have been injured or died because PACC did not respond?” Honea asked. “We think we can do an even better job because we will respond to every call.”
Proponents of PACC have also called into question the ability of the Humane Society to provide the same services as PACC. While the Humane Society has a survival rate of 95 percent, they do not normally take in the same animals that PACC does.
“PACC has and continues to makes great strides in caring for the lost, abandoned, abused and neglected pets in Pima County,” said Marana resident Bonny Harris, who noted PACC’s 90 percent survival rate despite being the county’s only open admission shelter in the county.
“Does the Humane Society of Southern Arizona intend on becoming an open admission shelter when serving Marana residents?” Harris continued. “If so, who pays for those fees for surrendering an animal?”
Davidson said the contract with the Humane Society would essentially make it an open admission shelter for Marana town staffers and residents and that all costs would be part of the contract and not passed onto Marana residents.
“The service for Marana employees and Marana residents would be identical to what they would receive at PACC,” Davidson said.
Another concern of those who spoke in favor of PACC, as well as Ziegler: While the basic framework of the plan is in place, it lacks a lot of the details. Many of those speaking out against the plan expressed concern that until those details are fleshed out, animals’ lives are in danger.
“In all of the years I have been sitting up here we have had good staff members come up here and provide a lot of detail on things we are going to vote on, and I trust in that,” Ziegler said. “This has been a circus. I know why we pulled out of PACC.”
Davidson said the fears are unfounded. He explained that it did not make sense to spend time and money to create a fully detailed plan prior to the study session if the council was going to extend the contract with the county. He said that by the time the town launches the new department in July, officials will have everything figured out. In just two weeks since deciding to create the new department, the town staff has already answered a lot of the questions. He specifically mentioned that the town has found an animal control truck for the department.
Davidson compared it to the new police station. When the council passed the plan for the half-cent sales tax to fund the police station, they had a rough idea about what they wanted in it, but did not have all of the details.
“On the night they approved the facility there were a lot of questions we could not answer but as the project progressed we filled in the blanks and we will do the same thing with this project,” Davidson said.
Keeping Everyone Happy
Davidson said one of the biggest issues with keeping everyone happy is that there is not one type of “animal person.” Not only are there “dog people and cat people” but each group has different interests. He noted some people want feral cats sterilized and then returned to the wild, while others want feral cats removed from the wild because they harm other animals in the area.
Davidson is open to meeting with supporters of PACC to hear their concerns, but he said he did not want to spend a lot of time meeting with area animal activists until he knew for sure that they were proceeding with the plan to separate from PACC. He said the town will not only meet with individuals to see the specific services that they want, but meet with area sheltering services and veterinarians to work on partnerships that will benefit the animals in Marana.
Ziegler felt the public should have been consulted earlier in the process, noting that before they passed the half-cent sales tax to fund the new police station, they went to area businesses and residents to get their input on the project
“We went to everyone in the town, why did we not vet our Marana citizens?” Ziegler said. “All that wealth of information and we chose not to vet it?”
PACC proponents said that the public’s support of the facility and their shift towards being a low-kill shelter should have cued the council towards what the public wanted.
“It seems as if the leaders of Marana did not hear us when we voted in Prop 415 and the $22 million shelter for the lifesaving shift of PACC,” said Christy Hollinger, a Marana resident and PACC volunteer.
The Humane Society is also building a new facility, which will open in early 2018.
The battle has taken to social media, where opponents of the move are being quite vocal in their opposition. Ziegler, who is a county employee, continues to voice her displeasure with the move.
Ziegler has expressed concern that the decision will put extra pressure on the Marana Police Department because they will provide support to new Marana animal control officers, but Police Chief Terry Rozema said the police department will likely respond to fewer calls because local animal control officers will be tasked to respond to most calls.
“Now we won’t have to respond to every barking dog or non-emergency,” Rozema said.
The town is counting on good service and positive results to win opponents over. Town officials and staff who support the new plan believe their track record speaks for itself.
“I have been here long enough that the town of Marana will do a good job,” Post said. “We will get this done. We will make sure that this is a service for our residents that is done right and is well received.”