Crestview sever ties with Panhandle Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)

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CRESTVIEW – A long, latent dispute over an animal control services contract has led the city to sever relations with the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society.

Negotiations on a renewal, which Crestview City Manager Tim Bolduc said to have been ongoing throughout the year, broke down on December 23 when PAWS officials told city staff they could take or leave a new contract that included a rate hike greater than 100% .

Relationship’s abrupt end left the city scrambling as it struggles to establish its own animal control function. Bolduc said he hopes to have something in place within 45 to 60 days.

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Until then, animal control calls are handled by the Crestview Police Department, no deposits are accepted and emergencies will be handled by Walton County Animal Control.

“Until the 23rd, I thought there would be a resolution,” Bolduc said. “We have to make a transition pretty quickly.”

In a press release announcing the decision, Bolduc said, “We don’t believe PAWS is serving our citizens to the level they deserve.

PAWS Executive Director Tracey Williams, however, disagreed with just about everything Bolduc had to say in his statements to the public.

“It’s just crazy,” Wiliiams said. “I’m still in shock at how it comes out and how they make it look like.”

In the statement, Bolduc cited two examples of what the city saw as a lack of service from PAWS.

“Between their removal from the North Okaloosa shelter in Laurel Hill and their lack of response to help control feral cats, they are asking us to pay for services that are not available,” he said.

A now closed facility at Laurel Hill had been established as a holding station for the animals until they could be moved south to the current PAWS Humane Society building in Fort Walton Beach, Williams said. It was never intended to be a second refuge, as Bolduc suggests.

Colleen Cobb, director of animal operations at the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society, stands in the nearly empty trailer that houses the adoptable cats.  The Town of Crestview is in the process of establishing its own animal control division after contract negotiations with PAWS failed.

While Williams said that no discussion of feral cats in Crestview had been raised by city officials before this week, Bolduc said the issue was raised in a public forum when Williams told residents that no problem with feral cats would be resolved until PAWS was in operation. able to hire a veterinarian.

Williams said the contract between Crestview and PAWS actually expired two years ago and the city, rather than renewing it, “just continued to let it go by refusing to commit.”

“We should have stopped providing services, but it wouldn’t have been good for the animals,” she said.

Although Bolduc says PAWS officials have refused to engage in good faith contract negotiations, Williams said it is the city that has turned its back on PAWS ‘efforts to raise its fees to a level at which l he non-profit organization can operate effectively. .

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Crestview was paying $ 3.46 per capita when it left the PAWS contract. Earlier this year, PAWS came up with a plan in which the city would initially increase fees over three years from $ 5.50 to $ 6.50 and finally to $ 7.

The other Okaloosa municipalities that PAWS works with, as well as the county, have agreed to this funding schedule, Williams said.

The annual fee schedule was presented to Crestview about three months ago, Bolduc said, and the city has made a counter-offer to increase its animal control fee to $ 4.

Williams said it wasn’t a start.

“First and foremost, we have to make you pay for the services you get. Crestview got 20% of the services and provided 8% of the revenue. It was completely upside down,” she said. . “With Crestview, we were losing $ 100,000 a year. Just with Crestview.”

In December, with Crestview three months behind in payments to PAWS – a development Bolduc called an oversight – the nonprofit’s board of directors, armed with a year-long financial breakdown of expenses, voted to no longer offer a sliding scale of fee increases. and insisted that any further contract extensions would require municipalities to pay $ 7 per capita for services.

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Bolduc said that while he is not sure exactly what an animal control service in Crestview will look like, he is confident that the service he provides will be better than what the city is currently getting.

An animal keeping facility on the grounds of the town’s utility facility, which had been in use before Crestview entered into its contract with PAWS, is being renovated to meet the animal control needs of the city.

This photo was taken at PAWS on Thursday, January 28, 2021. The City of Crestview is in the process of establishing its own animal control division after contract negotiations with PAWS failed.

Bolduc and Williams confirmed that the city initially approached PAWS to bring animals to its facilities during the transition period. Williams said that request had to be turned down due to the liability issues it could create.

“I just think they don’t understand what all of this entails,” she said.

Regarding PAWS, Williams said he would benefit from the savings of the $ 100,000 he was losing serving at Crestview, and the position he has taken with the city should serve as proof that the organization to nonprofit is no longer willing to “subsidize the taxpayer’s animal control service”. ”

“We are no longer going to be at the mercy of what the city authorities dictate,” she said. “We take control and make strong decisions in the best interests of the association, the animals and the staff.”

Effective January 1, citizens of Crestview should contact 850-682-2055 for animal control.

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