City, shelter at a stalemate over expiring pound keeping contract
The Moose Jaw Humane Society will have provided seven years of service on a five-year contract with the City of Moose Jaw for pound keeping services.
© Cole Carruthers
Dave Field, finance chair for the board of directors of the Moose Jaw Humane Society (MJHS) discusses the need for funding during the annual general meeting of the MJHS.
"The city hanged us," said John LaBuick, president of the MJHS's board. "The city took advantage of the Humane Society on this last contract. They literally wrote their own cheque. They decided what they wanted to pay, and they did what they wanted.
"They hanged the board for a six-year contract."
The Times-Herald has acquired a copy of the contract, signed more than seven months late on Aug. 15, 2007.
At least six of those years were included in the contract, which states, "The term of this Agreement shall be for an initial period of five (5) years, commencing January 1, 2007 and continuing until December 31, 2012."
When the agreement was reaching its end date, LaBuick and Dave Field, the non-profit's finance chairman, attempted to initiate negotiations for a new contract, they said.
They opened with a request for $386,053 per year — the cost, LaBuick said, to operate the pound keeping service without profit. It is almost a threefold increase over the expiring contract.
LaBuick said the organization's efforts to spark negotiations have "been to no avail."
"In all honesty, we have not yet sat down with a city group, individual, or any representative and done some serious negotiating to try and resolve this contract," he said.
"We've had approximately five meetings (since Dec. 2011), but unfortunately we've never met with anyone who can make any decisions. We've met with people who can't make any offers."
Field said the MJHS board has been forthcoming with its numbers, but the city has been singing a different tune.
"The amount (the MJHS) has requested is over $380,000," Mayor Deb Higgins told the Times-Herald Sept. 18. "That's just about triple the amount that the service is provided with currently and over the past several years."
"While I think everyone on city council and the administration realizes the costs have gone up, what we've asked for from the Humane Society is a more detailed analysis of the increased costs, what they're for, how they're divided, and what is the city's share."
While further transparency may be a reasonable request, LaBuick said the city was asking for information the Humane Society could not provide.
"They wanted us to break everything down," added LaBuick. "They wanted to know how much soap we use for the city-funded operations. We don't know that. We clean the place."
"I told them we weren't going to count toilet paper rolls and light bulbs, but that we would give them the costs associated with each one of those divisions," said Field.
Field said the organization provided the city with its audited financial statements and a division of expenses between the pound keeping service and the Humane Society operation — the latter of which is not funded by the city.
There still has yet to be an attempt at negotiation on the city's behalf, said LaBuick.
They've got it so cheap for the last 15 years that no one in the building seems to accept the fact it's time to pay the piper. John LaBuick, president, MJHS board
"We haven't had a counter-offer to our number to date," he said. "We have yet to receive an offer of any nature. Not even an offer saying, 'We'll give you the same amount as last year.' Nothing."
The issue, according to Higgins, is the costs that would be attached to an increase.
"When you're looking at an increase of costs by triple, up to over $380,000, that's an additional 1.5 per cent on the tax base to cover those costs," she said. "It is substantial."
But from his perspective, LaBuick added, the city's mindset is wrong.
"We have said since day one with these people to stop looking at it as an increase of $250,000, and start looking at it like, over the past six years, you have saved $250,000 of taxpayers' money because our volunteers have gone out and earned it in donations to support you," he said.
"Let's get the telescope turned around here. You're looking at it from the wrong end. … We've saved the city in excess of $1.2 million with this contract. … They've got it so cheap for the last 15 years that no one in the building seems to accept the fact it's time to pay the piper."
The root of the problem, LaBuick said, is the city's treatment of the Humane Society as a department within its own operation, rather than as the independent contractor it actually is.
"We just don't feel like the city administration or council looks at us as a sole source contractor providing a service," he said. "They look at us like we're another department of the city … that's not what we are."
As it stands, discussion has broken down between the parties.
The Humane Society gave the city notice at the end of August that it would discontinue its pound keeping service if a new contract has not been resolved by Jan. 1, 2014, and LaBuick said he has heard nothing in the month since.
If its contract is terminated, the organization will continue to accept animal surrenders, but will not collect strays on behalf of the city.
City council has since elected to put out a Request for Proposals for a new pound service provider.
But, LaBuick said, the Humane Society remains amenable to negotiations with the city.
"I don't care who it is — put two people on the other side of the table who can sign a cheque and let's get it done," he said.
"We just don't understand how you do business this way. It's a god damn mystery to me."