Contract negotiations between the Haines Borough and Haines Animal Rescue Kennel ground to a halt last week, with the two sides blaming each other for the hold-up.

Borough manager David Sosa sent out a press release late Friday afternoon saying the two organizations were unable to reach an agreement and that “we are no longer using HARK for any Animal Control Services.”

The release, which interim police chief Robert Griffiths also posted to the Haines Borough Police Department Facebook page, said officers and dispatchers would not refer callers to HARK unless the individuals would transport the stray animals themselves.

“At present, the borough does not have alternative kennels but we hope to have something in place soon,” Sosa wrote.

The press release apparently wasn’t sent to HARK.

“We learned through a social media site that the borough was ceasing negotiations,” HARK board president Tara Bicknell said on Monday. “We haven’t gotten any official communication from the borough about ceasing negotiations.”

Griffiths’ Facebook post attracted an immediate and emotional response from residents who defended HARK’s work and its role in the community. Several people attacked the department and the administration for sabotaging the process, prompting Griffiths to respond that the cessation of negotiations “was not the borough’s choice.”

Griffiths also posted an email signed by the HARK board and the nonprofit’s executive director, Tracy Mikowski.

“In light of the fact that we do not have a contract or interim agreement and have provided animal control services per our previous contract for two months without payment, be advised that we are terminating animal control services for the borough effective immediately,” Mikowski wrote.

Bicknell said the email was posted out of context, as it was in response to a communication from the borough refusing to pay HARK’s July and August invoices for services. “I don’t know a business that can keep working for a client that is past due,” Bicknell said.

Sosa said he didn’t pay the invoices – which were billed at the rate of last year’s contract – because “their proposed rate was excessive for the limited services provided.”

Bicknell said the two agencies were in a verbal agreement that HARK would continue to serve under the previous contract until negotiations were complete. “We’ve done that before with no problem,” she said.

Disagreements in the negotiations stemmed from the borough’s requests to HARK, including that the group write citations for animal control code violations, that it provide more detailed accounting for how it’s spending borough money, and that it patrol for loose dogs eight hours per week.

The borough said it dropped the citation request after HARK representatives made it clear the organization did not want to be responsible for writing tickets. Instead, the borough asked HARK to report violations so the police department could “take appropriate action,” Sosa said.

Sosa said he also wanted to see better financial reporting from HARK.

“Previous reporting methods did not clearly describe how service area funds were being applied toward HARK’s animal control activities and this was a concern for me, as I have an obligation to safeguard public funds,” he said. “My sense is that HARK had some concern with the provisions placed in the contract as they did require more administrative accounting and reporting.”

The two agencies also disagreed over how many services should be provided for what amount of money. Sosa said HARK proposed a monthly payment from the borough only for licensing and boarding animals, but the borough felt it was too high and countered, asking that the payment include eight hours of patrol and response to calls for stray or dead dogs. HARK rejected that offer, he said.

HARK executive director Mikowski said Sosa’s remarks on the negotiations were “entirely one-sided.” “I don’t agree with all of the information he put out there,” she said.

In his budget for the current fiscal year, Sosa had proposed slashing HARK’s contract amount from $47,800 to $16,200 and transferring dog-catching responsibilities to the police department. After several budget hearings featuring public outcry against the cuts, the assembly amended the budget to restore funding to $45,250.

However, that didn’t guarantee HARK would receive that money. It just identified the maximum amount of funds that could be offered to HARK during contract negotiations for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

HARK has negotiated an annual animal control contract with the borough since about 2003 or 2004, Mikowski said. Though she is the executive director, she formerly worked at HARK as the animal control officer under former director Steve Vick, who she recently called for perspective and advice.

“He said that he is not aware of it ever being this controversial,” Mikowski said. “He said it was typically one meeting and they ran through (the contract) and signed it and everybody moved on.”

When asked what changed, Mikowski pointed to Sosa. “I just think it’s a different administration and he’s looking at everything very closely and he’s got his own ideas of what he thinks things are worth,” she said. “I don’t think he quite understands what it is we do. He’s picked it apart and tried to put other things in there that he thinks are important.”

Mikowski said she tried to steer away from reading the comments on Facebook, but was glad to see the vociferous support for HARK and the services it provides. Mikowski said she thinks people became upset because they thought the fight for funding ended when the budget passed, only to have it rear up again in negotiations.

“I think people were feeling hurt and left out of everything, thinking it was all good. People have come up to me and said, ‘We’re so glad you got your funding,’” Mikowski said. “People felt misled and were angry.”

Griffiths called the Facebook situation “unfortunate.” “It is unfortunate that my simple announcement to keep the public informed of changes developed into a forum for blasting the borough by people who do not have all of the facts in the matter,” he said.

Norm Smith, a former assembly member and vocal supporter of HARK who testified on its behalf during the budget cycle, called the stalled negotiations “ludicrous.” Smith said turning animal control back over to the police would set the town 20-25 years back.

“I don’t think Griffiths or any newly appointed chief of police is going to agree that one of his full-time officers has to spend four hours a week picking up dogs. I don’t think so. I think the whole thing is just sick,” Smith said.

HARK board president Bicknell estimated the borough contract represents about one-quarter to one-third of the nonprofit’s annual budget, but said stalled negotiations don’t mean HARK is going away.  

“HARK will never abandoned the community or the borough. We thought the negotiations were ongoing and we are still a willing participant,” she said.

When asked this week how the police are currently handling animal calls in light of the contract developments – or lack thereof – Griffiths said, “We will respond to the call as manpower and circumstances dictate.”