Dogged dispute: City, county officials continue to haggle over animal management agreement

Amanda DeHoney, director of Greenfield-Hancock County Animal Management, checks on dogs in the city/county shelter's kennel. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

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GREENFIELD — City and county officials both claim the other side violated a nearly two-decade-old agreement to run Greenfield-Hancock Animal Management — a department whose funding is in question for 2020.

The mayor of Greenfield and a Hancock County commissioner, however, say they’re willing to work together to rethink an interlocal agreement to keep the department running, with a few tweaks.

The Hancock County Commissioners in July proposed cutting nearly half of its funding dedicated to animal management — $192,000 in the tentative 2020 budget — so the county’s contribution to the joint agency would fall more in line with the amount of tax revenue in unincorporated Hancock County.

But a few weeks after John Jessup, president of the commissioners, mentioned a proposal to cut the department’s funding during a Hancock County Council budget hearing, some Greenfield officials responded, saying the commissioners didn’t meet a deadline to let the city know about the potential change.

According to an interlocal agreement between the city and county, signed in 2000, the partnership can be terminated by written notice on or before June 1 of the year preceding the effective date of the termination. During a Greenfield City Council budget hearing on Aug. 22, Mayor Chuck Fewell said no commissioner had contacted him about the potential budget cut by the county.

The commissioners haven’t proposed terminating the agreement; they asked for a change in the funding formula.

On Sept. 3, the commissioners asked their attorney, Scott Benkie, to write a letter to the city requesting information on the number of full-time animal management employees. The interlocal agreement states the city cannot hire more than four full-time “animal control officers” unless the city and county agree to hire more. Greenfield’s 2019 salary ordinance lists eight employees, but only two are designated as “control officers.”

Commissioner Brad Armstrong said the county wants to pay a “more appropriate” amount to contribute to the department. Hancock County funds 60% of the animal control expenses, while Greenfield pays 40% and operates the shelter. The county paid the city $383,857 for 2018 expenses, and the city contributed $255,905, according to financial documents from Greenfield Clerk-Treasurer Lori Elmore.

Last month, the city council agreed to increase its animal management contribution to 50% for 2020. If the county chooses to lower its contribution to 30%, that means the city might have to fund the remaining balance from the city’s general fund, Elmore has previously told the Daily Reporter.

Armstrong said animal management has expanded in staffing over the past few years without input from the county, as per the agreement. He said the county can only see the bill, not each decision.

“It’s pretty cut and dry that the intent was so it wouldn’t grow without mutual agreement,” Armstrong said. “You’d sit down and have a conversation about the size of the operation growing. Well, obviously, that hasn’t happened. It’s grown to be a lot bigger entity, and we don’t have any control over that.”

Fewell said each time the animal control budget was adjusted, the city billed the county, meaning the commissioners should’ve noticed an increase in funding.

“We were probably lax in letting them know the number of people,” Fewell said, “but your budget went up and they always paid it, which would be a red flag to say, why is it going up?”

In 2018, animal management made 1,604 runs: 780 in Greenfield; 485 in unincorporated Hancock County; 127 in New Palestine; 75 in Fortville; 69 in McCordsville; 28 in Cumberland; 21 in Shirley; 18 in Wilkinson; and one in Spring Lake, said Amanda Dehoney, director of animal management. From January to August of 2019, the department made 570 runs in Greenfield; 526 in the unincorporated parts of the county; and 149 in other municipalities.

Fewell said he would rather work with the county to realign the contribution percentage to the agency rather than creating a solo Greenfield animal management department. Armstrong said he doesn’t want the county to end its partnership with the city. He hopes the county can instead pay a better price.

“We need to sit down and hammer out what’s going to be in the best interest of the citizens, Fewell said. “I think that can be accomplished, and I hope that’s accomplished.”

Both Fewell and Armstrong said they hope the county’s incorporated towns — Fortville, McCordsville, New Palestine, Wilkinson, Cumberland, Shirley and Spring Lake — would eventually make up the difference in cost for animal management. Fewell said he would like those discussions to happen before each town, as well as Greenfield and Hancock County, begin budget talks next summer.

Greenfield officials also plan to construct a new animal control building — paid for without the assistance of the county — on a piece of land west of Franklin Street and just south of the Hancock County 911 Center near Tague Street. The city purchased the land from Covance for about $465,000. The city will split the land between animal management and the city’s street department.

Fewell said the building design could start this year, with construction ongoing as soon as 2020.

The current shelter, comprised of mismatched trailers near the Greenfield Wastewater Treatment Plant and Park Cemetery at 809 S. State St., can only hold so many animals, Dehoney has said. According to Daily Reporter archives, the city has operated a shelter at the location since the 1960s or 1970s.