ALPENA — Alpena County is exploring its options on how best to manage its animal control services and will seek input from the public on what services they want heading into the future.
The county, by state statute, is required to have an animal control department to address stray dogs and protect residents from dangerous animals. Alpena County’s program has grown well beyond that and now includes adoption, fostering, and housing animals as evidence in criminal matters.
For years, the county contracted with the Huron Humane Society for similar services, but the partnership ended in 2018 and the county resumed the services in-house.
Now, county commissioners are issuing a survey to residents to learn more about what the public wants for animal services and what they are willing to pay.
County Administrator Mary Catherine Hannah said several options could be considered based on what the residents share in the survey.
“We need to know what level of services the whole community is interested in the county providing beyond what we are statutorily required to provide,” she said. “Does the community want us to be doing all the other things?”
Hannah said residents could choose to continue forward as things are now, enter into a partial contract for animal services, or partner with someone to handle all animal control operations. She said no decision has been made yet on the future of animal control, and any notion claiming otherwise is not accurate.
“The exploration process doesn’t necessarily mean we will have a contract,” Hannah said. “It is simply to find out if it makes sense. It could be after we finish exploring that and the answer is no and we figure out how to make our program work the best way it can.”
According to data from the Alpena County Treasurer’s Office, Alpena County Animal Control was subsidized by the county’s general fund to the tune of $100,106, but the department brought in revenue of $95,783, which led to a deficit of $4,323.
The bulk of the revenue comes from private donations, which raked in nearly $65,000. The sale of dog licenses by the Treasurer’s Office added an additional $30,969.
Things like utilities for the Animal Control facility at the county fairgrounds are not included in the department’s expenses because they are measured as a whole with other fairground structures.
Animal Control’s expenses are expected to exceed revenues this year by about $8,000, according to the county’s latest budget estimates.
Hannah said planning a future direction for Animal Control is needed now because it has grown to the point that housing the animals is becoming an issue. She said the current facility, a small, garage-like building at the fairgrounds, is not suitable for what it is being used for now.
“The building was not originally designed for the purpose it is being used for now,” she said. “It is not adequate.”
When the current shelter surpasses its occupancy levels, Hannah said, there are times animals are forced to to be sheltered in the Merchant’s Building at the fairgrounds. Hannah said that, if the county continues to provide the services it does now, a new facility will need to be built at the fairgrounds or at another location such as by the county jail on M-32.
Hannah said the county can’t afford to pay for a new building, and, if it gets to that point, the public may need to step up and help pay for it. She didn’t rule out a property tax to do so.
“We’re not at that point yet, but, if the county were to keep Animal Control as a county-run program, we would definitely be looking at a new facility,” she said. “There would have to be something to help support it.”
Hannah said that, whatever the commissioners decide, it won’t be too long until the plan is implemented. She said the changes, if any, would need to be addressed before the 2024 budget is crafted at the end of this year.
The survey is expected to be released on Monday and be available for 30 days before the results are reviewed, Hannah said.