Atlanta only holdout on paying for county animal control

Fulton County’s new Animal Services site. (Photograph provided by Fulton County)



Fulton County’s new Animal Services site. (Photograph provided by Fulton County)

Of the 15 cities in Fulton County, only Atlanta has not yet signed an agreement to pay more for county-provided animal control. That left county commissioners wondering this week if the city was trying to play hardball on renegotiating other costs — and how to pressure city officials into signing.

District 2 Commissioner Bob Ellis read off the names of dogs in the county animal shelter and (perhaps jokingly) suggested taking them to Atlanta City Hall and “stick ‘em there in their lobby.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, Anderson said he had just received an email from the city which “seems to indicate that they are getting there,” but asked for more time. City officials wanted to couple the discussion of animal control costs to unrelated city-county service agreements, he said.

Asked why Atlanta had not yet ratified the contract, and if its delay indicated an attempt to negotiate costs, Michael Smith, press secretary for Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, did not provide a direct answer.

“The City is still reviewing the agreement and is in communication with the County,” he said via email on Thursday.

At the request of District 3 Commissioner Dana Barrett, Anderson briefed commissioners Wednesday on the status of animal control agreements between the county and its 15 cities.

Fulton County is not required to provide animal services, except for rabies prevention, but has done so for decades, Anderson said. Last year the county replaced its old, overcrowded shelter with a new, much larger $40 million facility that needed more staff, and offers improved and expanded services, he said.

“All of that together adds up to additional operating costs,” Anderson said.

Debt service on the new shelter is paid by the county, but operating costs — including staffing — are proportionately billed to the cities based on calls for service from each, he said.

The rate Fulton’s 15 cities pay was recalculated to cover the greater costs, Anderson said. That hadn’t been done for the previous six years, even though costs were already increasing. So, for several years, the county and LifeLine Animal Services — the nonprofit that operates county animal control under contract — have paid extra, he said. LifeLine had to seek private donors to cover much of that cost.

The result was a “fairly significant increase” for each city: from a previous total of $6.4 million per year to $11.7 million per year now, Anderson said.

Atlanta was asked for the biggest increase: from $2.6 million to $6.4 million.

Barrett suggested that the county counter by withholding any payments to Atlanta under other service agreements to “balance the books.”

District 6 Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman said it looks like Atlanta is stalling the animal control agreement to “barter for something else.”

Anderson said county leaders should try talking again to the mayor’s office to “de-link the issues.”