Fulton County’s animal service to Atlanta stops

Johns Creek reluctantly approves agreement with Fulton County for animal control services. (Courtesy Fulton County Animal Services)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

Johns Creek reluctantly approves agreement with Fulton County for animal control services. (Courtesy Fulton County Animal Services)

Fulton County and its nonprofit partner LifeLine Animal Services stopped answering calls for animal control within Atlanta city limits on Friday.

The cutoff is because Atlanta has, for months, failed to agree to a doubling increase in cost, to $6.4 million a year. All other cities in Fulton County have agreed to pay more, which is the actual cost of providing the service to them, county commission Chairman Robb Pitts said during a Friday afternoon press conference.

“Despite months of discussions and ongoing good-faith efforts on the part of Fulton County, the city of Atlanta still has not provide a signed intergovernmental agreement to Fulton County for animal services as of this afternoon,” he said. Talks with city officials have indicated it could be May before that agreement is approved — and the county can’t wait any longer, Pitts said.

The previous agreement expired Jan. 1. The county continued answering animal control calls in Atlanta for three months “in good faith” while talks continued, he said.

“But we cannot continue to do so. Therefore as of (Friday) ... responsibility for animal services within the city of Atlanta will revert to the city of Atlanta,” Pitts said.

About three hours after the county announcement, the city issued a statement claiming that Fulton County and Atlanta had reached a “tentative agreement” on animal control, and speculating that the county’s service cutoff was retaliation for Mayor Andre Dickens’ remarks earlier Friday on conditions in the Fulton County jail.

Dickens commented on a stabbing incident inside the jail, saying: “Historically, the Fulton County Commission has underfunded quality of life services for inmates, physical and mental health services for County residents and people are paying the price—at times, with their lives.”

In a statement about animal control services, the mayor’s office said: “Refusing to honor an agreement based on this statement reeks of political maneuvering and jeopardizes the overall safety of our residents.” the city’s statement said.

Further, it says the county owes $5.7 million to the city for unpaid water bills, but that water service has not been cut off.

“We would not risk endangering the welfare of people or animals while negotiating in good faith to resolve these issues,” the statement says. “We expect the same professionalism and care for our citizens and animals from the county.”

Atlanta residents should call 311 for animal control needs “until this matter is resolved,” and the city is finding emergency services to care for animals in the interim, it says.

Roughly 90 minutes later, the county issued a rebuttal to the city’s statement. While Atlanta did send a letter of intent, it didn’t address reimbursing the county for more than three months of animal control service since the old agreement expired, the county’s reply says.

Asked for that money to be included, the city kept moving the deadline — from Friday (as the county asked) to “Tuesday or Wednesday,” and saying final approval wouldn’t go through city council until May 6, according to the county.

“Fulton County has engaged in discussion with the City for the last six months and there has been ample opportunity for this agreement to be brought before the City Council and signed,” the county’s statement says. “Each and every deadline provided to the city has been ignored, despite ongoing efforts to reach an agreement.”

It did not address the city’s claim of unpaid water bills.

At their March 20 meeting, commissioners voted to cut off animal control to Atlanta on April 3 if the city didn’t respond. County Attorney Y. Soo Jo told commissioners that providing service without a contract left the county open to legal liability.

Pitts said the county will be glad to reconsider the cutoff as soon as an agreement is signed.

Atlanta received the new agreement in October, and all 14 other cities in the county signed similar major cost increases, Pitts said.

It’s unfair to ask residents of all the other cities in Fulton County to subsidize services in Atlanta, which accounts for 55% of animal calls, Pitts said.

Through a contract with nonprofit LifeLine Animal Services, the county provides animal control countywide. Though costs have risen, the charges to cities hadn’t gone up in five or six years.

The county is not passing on any of the cost of its new, $40 million animal shelter to cities in the agreements, and neither Fulton County nor LifeLine is profiting from animal control, Pitts said.

“These costs reflect only the true cost of service,” Pitts said.

Commissioner Dana Barrett, whose district includes much of Atlanta, said the county had no choice. In months of talks the city angled for a discount, which she called “shocking and disappointing.” That included asking for free real estate, and more money for programs on which the county will likely collaborate anyway, Barrett said.

In holding the price steady for the last few years even as actual costs rose, the county essentially gave Atlanta and other cities a discount already, she said.

Barrett said she doesn’t know if Atlanta is capable of suddenly providing its own animal control services. The county is ready to restart service with a new legal agreement, but it’s possible the city could contract animal control out to some other provider, she said.