FSAC chief: Animal control meeting should be opened to public

CAMDEN — On Thursday, First State Animal Center-SPCA Executive Director Kevin Usilton said next week’s meeting to discuss upcoming statewide animal control plans should be open to the public.

On Monday, representatives for the State of Delaware, New Castle, Kent, and Sussex counties and the City of Wilmington will gather at Kent County Levy Court in the first step of moving forward following FSAC-SPCA’s decision to terminate existing contracts after Sept. 15.

In the early morning hours of July 1 in the last meeting of the current General Assembly session, state legislators voted to transition animal control responsibilities to the state as contracts with Camden-based FSAC-SPCA expired over next two years.

The center later exercised a clause to give 60 days notice of contract termination, greatly hastening the state’s need for transition plans.

“The transfer (of services) was completed in secret and our legislators haven’t had a chance to get the public’s opinion on that,” Mr. Usilton said. “It is the public’s tax dollars which are funding the program.

“It’s a big change for residents and it’s almost unheard of for a state to take over control from a non-profit.”

The Office of Animal Welfare will oversee animal control starting in mid-September with an annual budget of $3.5 million.

The OAW released the following statement on Thursday about the upcoming meeting:

“The meeting on Monday is for the purpose of information gathering, and is the first step in an ongoing conversation that will take place over the next few weeks to see how we can support New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties and the City of Wilmington and their animal control responsibilities.

“We are committed to working with the counties and the City over the coming weeks to develop a coordinated and thoughtful transition plan and will be sharing this information more broadly with stakeholders and other interested parties as these plans take shape.”

Since announcement of the upcoming contract terminations, Mr. Usilton said “We’ve gotten a ton of support from the public that’s angry that the state is taking over animal control, because the state will not give adequate public safety.”

Currently, the FSAC-SPCA is telling the public “they can voice concerns with legislators and let their voice be heard,” Mr. Usilton said.

Also, the FSAC-SPCA has reached out to the Attorney General’s office regarding the departure of enforcement officers who may have ongoing cases regarding citations and charges made during animal cruelty investigations when they leave.

“If the officers are gone, chances are the cases won’t reach prosecution,” Mr. Usilton said.

Attempts to reach the AG’s office late Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Of FSAC-SPCA’s 25 officers, Mr. Usilton said that 10 have pledged to remain until end of business on Sept. 15. The other 15 were involved with job interviews and sending out resumes this week, he said.

FSAC-SPCA had ongoing annual contracts with Sussex County ($682,616), Kent County ($895,041.12), New Castle County ($1,035,000), Wilmington ($600,000), city of Dover ($40,000), Department of Public Health for rabies ($275,520) and Cruelty Reimburse ($106,000).

Contracts were scheduled to run through:
• Sussex County, Dec. 30, 2015
• Kent County, June 30, 2017
• New Castle County, Dec. 30, 2016
• City of Wilmington, June 30, 2016
• City of Dover, ongoing
• Department of Health, rabies, June 30, 2016
• Cruelty Reimburse, June 30, 2016.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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