Negotiations for a new contract between the city and HOPE Humane Society have been put on hold.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved at its meeting Tuesday the extension of a contract with the shelter as part of the consent agenda. According to the resolution, the city entered into the contract in January 2016 to provide payment to the Humane Society for being the official impoundment facility of Fort Smith.

Dec. 31 is the end of the three-year contract term, but the shelter is “in the process of evaluating its services and its related operational needs and costs,” therefore, the two parties need more time before determining the “scope and context of a possible new services contract.”

“The city is aware of and supports their efforts, but the city and the (Humane Society) are not yet ready to present a renewed agreement,” Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said in a memo to City Administrator Carl Geffken.

The resolution, approved 7-0 as part of the consent agenda, will extend the current contract with the shelter until March 31, 2019.

Humane Society Board President Sam Terry said at its December meeting the shelter deferred negotiations for 90 days.

“We didn’t want to put too much on the city with the ordinance we’re trying to get passed as well as negotiating a new contract,” Terry said.

He did mention the city has offered a 50-cent per animal, per day raise for the shelter, which is something the two parties will discuss further. 

The city already pays about $300,000 per year in its contract with the shelter plus $300,000 for animal control salaries and operating costs.

Animal overpopulation and suggested solutions have long been issues in Fort Smith. The city’s Animal Services Advisory Board wants to incentivize pet alteration through microchip registration, indicating the program has been successful in other cities at reducing its animal population.

The shelter has been open about its desires to see stricter laws in Fort Smith as the number of animals in its care continues to be above what it considers a “humane” capacity. There are approximately 500 dogs and 100 cats on site, plus pets in foster care.

Financially, it is in better shape than the end of last year, but there are questions about its financial viability.

LeeAnn Hicklin Cox, HOPE treasurer and animal services board member, said at the most recent meeting the shelter may not exist if there isn’t a solution put in place by the city. It is losing approximately $25,000 per month to care for the animals, which is why it is pressing for a new ordinance.

Humane Society Vice President Storm Nolan said at the most recent services meeting that they have “one shot to make this happen.”

Former city director candidate Sam Price said he supports the suggestions set forth and believes Fort Smith leadership needs to seriously consider it. Price said in order for the city to be an attractive destination for young people, the city needs to react to the issue and be proactive in making sure it doesn’t get worse.

“Right now, I think with as much coverage as we’re getting with our animal problems, it makes people not want to come,” Price said.

The services board will meet Jan. 9 to go over final details before presenting its findings to the Board of Directors at the Jan. 15 study session. It would likely vote on the ordinance one week later.