During Waterville’s Nov. 1 Town Council meeting, the council was approached by Wenatchee Valley Humane Society Animal Care and Control Executive Director Taylor Sharp, who asked the council to sign a revised contract for services that would cancel the current contract and have a significant increase in cost in 2022 for Waterville.
The current contract runs through 2023 and has a 2% per year increase in fees paid by Waterville. Sharp was asking that our town sign a new contract that would run 2022-2024. It would increase an increased cost of 15% in 2022 (an increase for the year of $1,452 over the current contract) and a 3% increase in both 2023 and 2024. It is a request that Animal Control is making to all towns in its jurisdiction.
Sharp provided several reasons for making this request. The first reason she provided is our town has had a significant increase in calls in both 2020 and 2021. This year there has been 119 calls to Waterville, 12 animal intakes, and 15 cases opened, which as of Oct. 17, which is more than the yearly totals of either 2019 or 2020.
“Our projections are to beat out 2020, which exponentially beat 2019 in terms of calls, intakes, cases, those types of things,” said Sharpe.
She also explained that the animal control positions are not typical jobs. They take special abilities, interpersonal skills, and a willingness to work non-traditional hours.
“It’s a job that takes the right type of person and when you find that right person you want to invest, because it’s not only good for the animals, we want to make sure that they’re helping the communities and they’re knowledgeable and investing in our jurisdictions and having positive interactions with all of your constituents,” said Sharpe.
Also, our state and our nation has seen that officials working in law enforcement no longer have the trust of the public and their authority and safety is being challenged much more frequently. This has also been seen with our area’s animal control personnel.
“Our officers were faced with a number of very challenging situations, including being met with guns and knives on multiple occasions. We decided to have our officers wear bulletproof vests. We’re not happy about that. We wish that everyone felt comfortable and safe without that, but that is a measure of comfort for our team, because this position can be so challenging and daunting,” said Sharpe
Despite all these challenges, the typical animal control officer’s wage in our area has shrunk from $4-5 above minimum wage in 2012 to less than $1 above minimum wage currently, explained the executive director. As such, many animal control officers are quitting and they are seeing a smaller pool of applicants as these people have realized they can make more money working less stressful jobs, even at the local animal shelter. Much of this happened before Taylor Sharp took her current position as the Executive Director and she refused to place blame, but it is a problem she has worked to rectify.
“I don’t enjoy having to come in here and having to ask for a 15% increase. That is a lot and I respect that. It’s not something we take lightly,” she said.
As such, the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society Board of Directors voted unanimously earlier this year to give the animal control officers a significant raise to prevent the loss of any more due to wages. It is a significant increased cost that the Humane Society has been paying for itself, but it now has Sharp asking all the town’s in the Animal Control’s jurisdiction for this new contract.
Councilman Michael Davies showed empathy for the problem but worried about the increase in cost and the challenge of coming up with the money while maintaining a balanced budget for Waterville.
Councilwoman Joyce Huber expressed her concern about the large percentage increase when the national Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is the main economic indicator used to track inflation, is significantly less.
“My biggest argument is the CPI is only at 5.6 and I think it very unrealistic. And I know the value of employees. Waterville is not the only board I sit on. So, I understand the value of employees. But, for us to take an almost three time hit versus what nationwide CPI is, it does not sit well with me at all,” said Huber.
It was at this point that Sharp explained to the council that the size of the requested increase was due to the shrinking gap above minimum wage that our area’s animal control officers had been experiencing since 2012. It is something that she pushed to rectify now that she had taken over the Executive Director position.
Councilman Lloyd Smith drew on his experiences in personally being out on animal control calls in Waterville when sharing his thoughts on the matter.
“Definitely times have changed, so has the methods and procedures and also the welfare of the animal control individuals that come out on calls. I have been out on five different calls in Waterville, and they got my utmost respect,” said Smith
He expressed his support for the request after verifying that the increase was about $100 more per month for 2022.
Councilman Cody Preugschat expressed his support for the request based on his belief that the CPI will be significantly more in 2022, because of who our elected officials are at the state and national levels.
“Typically, I don’t like those big of increases, but I understand that inflation that’s going to be hitting us. The CPI next year’s going to be way higher next year with who’s in charge,” he said.
After the council received assurances from Sharp that Animal Control will honor the new contract, which runs through 2024, and not come back and ask for another significant cost increase from Waterville during that time, the council voted. The motion passed on a 4-1 vote with Councilwoman Huber voting against the new contract based on her stated concerns. The new contract with Animal Control will begin Jan. 1, 2022.