FORT PIERCE, Fla.- — Fort Pierce City Commissioners voted Monday night to give the City Attorney permission to use every legal tool necessary to begin exploring alternatives to the Humane Society of St. Lucie County as an animal services vendor.
That includes having the City Attorney review any breaches of contract on behalf of the shelter in their lease and contract.
City leaders said Fort Pierce, Port St. Lucie and St. Lucie County are at an impasse with the Humane Society of St. Lucie County in negotiating a future partnership.
The Humane Society of St. Lucie County is asking for nearly double the funds they receive from the municipalities, which city leaders say is too much to ask for.
The Humane Society of St. Lucie County has argued they do not receive a fair share of funds from the municipalities compared to shelters in neighboring counties.
Code Compliance Manager Peggy Arraiz said Monday night that the Humane Society of St. Lucie County raised just $103 from fundraising in 2019.
Shelter management has said “without more money, we can not continue...The jurisdictions and the community need to rally for the sake of the animals or our doors will close as an open admissions shelter.”
To continue negotiations, officials from the three municipalities asked the shelter to provide the results of an operational review from Best Friends Animal Society, which was to give recommendations to the shelter on how to improve animal care, shelter operations, staffing, and money management. Officials also asked for the conclusion of an audit, a projected budget, and updated business plan.
The shelter said it will not turn over the results of the Best Friends Animal Society review.
The shelter said it would extend the contract for three months if city and county officials would meet with shelter leadership in August. Arraiz said city and county officials are not planning to meet with shelter management, which means the shelter will not seek a contract renewal.
The shelter, in writing, asked the municipalities to make plans for the animals commencing October 1.
Animal advocates say they are glad to see the city taking action to make emergency arrangements for the animals. However, advocate Terri Walden says she has been urging the municipalities to create a backup plan for months, wanting to avoid the last-minute rush.
“I would send emails and say you’ve got 6 months, okay you’ve got 4 months, okay, you’ve got three months and here we are with less than 2 months. We had to give 60 days notice to terminate the lease and we can’t, because we’re within the 60 day period, so yes, there are a lot of things that are very unfortunate, and there are three municipalities that are involved in these errors,” Walden said.
Mayor Linda Hudson said it appears time to end a decades-long relationship. “We’ve had a long relationship with the humane society. It sounds like breaking up is hard to do but might have to happen,” said Mayor Linda Hudson. “This is not your father’s Humane Society that was well funded, lots of people volunteering. It seems to be a different organization…” Hudson said.
Reggie Sessions echoed Hudson’s comments.
“We have to do what we have to do. I think what they’ve done is given us an ultimatum that they knew was unattainable just to say goodbye. So at this point, we have to sever our relationships…” Sessions said.