Contract with First State Animal Center remains; County’s dog control ‘seamless’ into 2016

GEORGETOWN – It seems Sussex County will have “seamless” dog control coverage through this year leading into 2016 with the state’s planned Jan. 1, 2016 takeover of dog control.

First State Animal Center/SPCA’s contractual agreement for dog control with Sussex County will continue through December – eliminating possible Sept. 15 termination that Camden-based FSAC had announced in July.

Deputy Administrator Hal Godwin, in a Sept. 15 presentation to Sussex County Council, reported that Sussex County will have continued coverage leading up to 2016 when the state assumes dog control through its Office of Animal Welfare.

“This service would be seamless from the County’s responsibility to the state’s responsibility Jan. 1 without much of an interruption,” said Mr. Godwin. “I think we are in good shape. Our contract with First State Animal Center/SPCA is still binding at the same price. We have put Humpty Dumpty back up on the wall.”

“We will be doing it until the end of the year and then it is our understanding that the Office of Animal Welfare will be ready to take over at that point. We are only doing dog control,” said FSAC/SPCA Director Kevin Usilton.

In July, the County received notice that First State Animal Center/SPCA planned to terminate its contracts early with Sussex County. Contracts with New Castle County, Kent County and the City of Wilmington were to also be terminated, effective Sept. 15.

Mr. Godwin reported that Kent County and the City of Wilmington have signed contracts with the Chester County SPCA in Pennsylvania to provide their services.

“It has been kind of a very convoluted process,” said Mr. Usilton. “The state passed legislation in the middle of the night, giving them authority to take over animal control with no conversation with our board of directors about it. Our board said if they want it, let them have it. So they terminated all of the contracts – effective Sept. 15.

“Then, New Castle County came back to us and said that they would like us to continue until the state is ready to take it over because the costs are too prohibitive to start this kind of program,” said Mr. Usilton. “So we said we’d have to have two vendors. Then Sussex County jumped on board. We signed agreements with them that they would understand that because the state took some of our officers and Chester County SPCA took some of our officers, that we are down to just eight officers who are trained capable of providing enforcement.”

Mr. Usilton said at full force FSAC had 27 trained officers.

“He (Mr. Usilton) did raise one flag of caution; he said there may be occasions where he might be slightly shorthanded because of this staffing problem,” said Mr. Godwin.

“We’re modifying our hours to make sure that we have enough on-call personnel so if there are emergencies we can respond to those in a timely fashion,” Mr. Usilton said.

At its Dec. 9, 2014 meeting, County Council approved a one-year amendment to the County’s dog control contract with First State Animal Center/SPCA. The contract runs from Jan. 1, 2015 through Dec. 31, 2015 at a cost of $682,616 – matching the amount for 2014.

At the July 21 Council meeting that followed FSAC’s letter with intent to terminate contracts early, County Administrator Todd Lawson and County Attorney Everett Moore both said the contractual agreement with FSAC was valid through the end of the year.

“They (First State) are on the hook for that until the end of the year,” said Mr. Lawson.

As a Plan B, if in fact the contract with FSAC were to come to a premature end, Mr. Godwin sought alternatives. His efforts included interviewing potential employees to provide service in- house, contacting kennels to provide ad-hoc service as well as an SPCA in Pennsylvania.

“All of the alternatives that I looked at were going to cost us more money,” Mr. Godwin said.

Noting FSAC has just several more months under the contract, County Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, asked who will hold FSAC accountable and “hold its feet to fire.”

Mr. Godwin said he doesn’t anticipate any problem. “I don’t see an issue,” said Mr. Godwin.

“I think the public will hold peoples’ feet to the fire,” said County Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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