GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport is moving forward with plans to build its own permanent animal shelter, even as negotiations continue to reach a contract agreement with the Humane Society of South Mississippi. The two are scheduled for a sit down meeting on Wednesday.
Tuesday, the council approved advertising for an architectural firm to redesign an existing building to serve as a shelter.
City leaders said it's not that they're unhappy with the job the Humane Society was doing in caring for animals. They said their problem is the Humane Society wants the city to pay a large bill without justifying the amount of the charges.
In two months of running an animal shelter for the city, the Gulfport Police Department has been looking for ways to operate more cost efficiently. Officials said local veterinarians suggested moving into a building with a layout more conducive to caring for animals.
"The really key savings we could render, and it's beneficial for the animal, is a trough system that you put in the kennels. That makes for a faster cleanup and a less labor intensive cleanup," said Chief Leonard Papania. "That's one of the key things that if we go into a permanent facility that we would be looking for."
Chief Papania told the Gulfport City Council even without a proper building, he's spending $89 per animal compared to the $120 per animal the Humane Society of South Mississippi charges the city for taking strays coming from Gulfport.
"The contract was going to be based on 2013 numbers of 1,748 animals," said Chief Papania. "That's how many animals were delivered to the Humane Society of South Mississippi and were designated by the Humane Society of South Mississippi to be the responsibility of Gulfport. Calculating that number at $120 for each of those animals, I think we calculate a figure of $209,000 where the contract would have gone."
Several Gulfport council members expressed concern that the Humane Society was seeking to bill the city for animals coming from other areas.
"It boils down to cost. We know that those are going up but we can't verify that those costs are justifiable," said R. Lee Flowers, council member. "That's what we're really asking for. We have people who say they live in Gulfport because they have a Gulfport address but our city finances are supposed to be for those who are just in the city. Right now the traceability at the Humane Society doesn't provide that information."
The Human Society said the shelter has repeatedly justified the $120 charge.
"Dating back to 2007 we have charged $120 for strays. It's been consistent but it doesn't actually meet the $234 that we pour into each animals that enters our care. We have provided break downs of how we come to $120 dollars per stray or really more than that based on our profit and loss documents," said Krystyna Schmidt of the HSSM. "We'll give that information again but that has been provided to them."
"The stray number in Gulfport, we have maps that our intake staff the Gulfport addresses are actually within city limits. So those fall in Gulfport and not Harrison County," said Schmidt. "We have taken steps to make sure those animals that don't originate into the city of Gulfport are not charged to the city of Gulfport."
Schmidt said any animals abandoned at the shelter are not billed to a local government, although the shelter is located in Gulfport.
Community members also spoke out during the council meeting.
"Who knows without your funds and who knows if Biloxi is going to follow you and Harrison County is going to follow you," said Eric Aschaffenburg. "If all that funding goes away from the Humane Society. I'm here to tell you there is not enough private money in that community to run that organization."
Chief Papania said if a permanent shelter is opened, he would look to hire to civilian staff members. He said he has two animal control officers, however, one is out for medical reasons.
Gulfport police officials and Humane Society officials are scheduled to meet Wednesday to continue negotiations.