Fulton threatens to cut off animal control in city of Atlanta

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 Animal Services could stop responding to calls city of Atlanta residents on April 3 — unless the city government agrees to a new, higher payment for that service, county commissioners decided Wednesday.

Through a contract with nonprofit LifeLine Animal Services, the county provides animal control within all 15 cities in Fulton County through intergovernmental agreements with those cities. Though costs have risen, the charges to those cities hadn’t gone up in five or six years, County Manager Dick Anderson said.

But those intergovernmental agreements all expired Jan. 1, so last year the county sent new agreements to all cities, roughly doubling the amount each would have to pay.

All agreed — except for Atlanta, which accounts for 54% of all animal control calls.

Commissioners ultimately voted 4-0 to stop serving Atlanta as of April 3 if the city hasn’t signed the new agreement by then.

“We are looking forward to resolving our differences with the County,” a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said when asked for a response after the vote.

All 14 other cities in Fulton County have agreed to the new higher charges, but months of talks with Atlanta haven’t yielded agreement. As the source of most calls, Atlanta is asked for the most: $6.4 million a year, roughly twice the previous annual rate.

Since the old agreement expired, the county is now footing the bill for Atlanta’s service, Anderson said.

County Attorney Y. Soo Jo said county animal control officers have no official jurisdiction in Atlanta without a signed deal, and providing service anyway could be a liability issue.

Neither the county nor LifeLine profits from animal control, Anderson said. Nor is the new shelter’s cost included in the charge to cities. But the larger shelter does require more staff and many other costs have risen, he said.

Anderson said Atlanta wants to keep paying its former rate while negotiating, which is “untenable for any long period of time.”

Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman said that puts an unfair burden on county taxpayers.

“OK, I’ll tell you what: If the city of Atlanta don’t want to pay, then the city of Atlanta needs to take over their service,” she said. “I’ll tell you what, they can go to the old shelter, how about that?”

The county closed its old, run-down and overcrowded animal shelter last year, moving operations to a new, larger, $40 million facility on Fulton Industrial Boulevard.

Commissioner Bob Ellis called Atlanta’s delay “unconscionable on so many different levels.” He urged cutting off services by March 27.

Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. wanted to delay the decision until the commission’s April 10 meeting. He noted that LifeLine also runs the DeKalb County animal shelter but DeKalb “eats the entire cost” instead of passing it on to cities.

While LifeLine operates the DeKalb shelter it does not provide animal control services there.

Arrington said he had received texts Wednesday morning from Dickens about the issue. He wanted to keep negotiating without a threat of service cutoff.

“What do we say to the other 14 cities that are paying?” Pitts asked. After the vote, he said he would still be available for further talks with city officials.