BISBEE — A letter from City Manager Theresa Coleman has left Friends of the Bisbee Animal Shelter confused and concerned for the welfare of the animals in the city-owned animal shelter.

On Oct. 28, Coleman sent a letter that simply stated: “With the intention to execute a new agreement for animal care services in the near future, this letter serves as notice that this will be the last check for extended operation of an animal shelter in Bisbee.”

It left FBAS wondering if it would continue running the shelter in the city-owned building on Tovreaville Road as it has for the past three years.

FBAS asks: Does it mean the city wants to work out an agreement with FBAS or is the city looking for another entity to run the shelter? What happens to the cats and dogs currently housed in the shelter if FBAS is no longer in charge?

It all started when the contract between the city and FBAS expired in June and Coleman put FBAS on a month-to-month contract, with the city agreeing to pay $6,666 monthly on the agreed annual amount of $80,000. Now the city has stopped payment.

The city posted a Request for Proposals to run the shelter operations in October and FBAS was the lone submittal.

The group stated in the RFP: “FBAS has an active board, raising over $100,000 a year through fundraising and grants and has fostered widespread support from the community.”

FBAS had to close the volunteer–run Gimme Shelter store due to the COVID–19 pandemic and now has a $30,000 deficit. Annual events have been canceled, increasing the deficit. With an annual budget of $175,000, which includes money from the city, the economic situation is becoming difficult.

The non–profit provides low-cost spay/neuter clinics for local residents in need of financial help. A free, fenced dog park was established for safe play and exercise. Also financially supported is the trap/neuter/release program that helps curb the feral cat population in Bisbee. The shelter has a pet food pantry for those needing help feeding their pets.

“Over the past seven years, the animal shelter supporters have transformed the shelter from a liability to a progressive shelter the community takes pride in,” the RFP stated.

The proposal included a profile of the board of directors and an overview of the staff and volunteers who work approximately 100 hours a week and keep the shelter open every day, except Thanksgiving and Christmas, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

No cost per animal or the cost to provide 72 hours to 124 hours of care for the animals was included, as required in the RFP, rendering it “unresponsive” by the city.

According to Kelly Galligan, FBAS president, former attorney Britt Hanson gave the go–ahead with the contract even though components of animal care services were not spelled out.

Galligan stated in an email to Coleman on Nov. 6, “We are not able to provide the cost per animal. The work involved with accounting and billing would be beyond what we can take on as volunteers. If the city is making cuts across the board, we are willing to discuss a decrease in funding. If that is the main issue, I hope we can have that discussion.”

Coleman responded, “The need to evaluate expenses was made clear from the very beginning, June 11.”

Galligan asked questions via email on the RFP and Coleman responded, “It would be inappropriate for me to guide any responses to an RFP.”

In a Nov. 9 email, Coleman asked if FBAS was willing to lease the facility beginning Dec. 1.

Galligan asked for more information on the lease, as she did not get a copy of what was being proposed.

She has not received it.

There are three new agenda items added Monday for discussion on the shelter and FBAS.

Bisbee economy hit by COVID–19

The city may face some harsh cutbacks as the true impact of COVID–19 is revealed in the coming months. The mayor and council have mentioned the financial difficulties ahead and the tough decisions they face to cut costs, which could include layoffs.

In an Oct. 20 meeting, Mayor David Smith pointed out the cost to the city of running the shelter grew from $60,000 to $80,000 and included caring for animals that goes beyond what the city code and charter established. The charter and code only relate to animals brought in by the Animal Control Officer, a now vacant position, law enforcement and fire personnel.

“The city shouldn’t have to pay for things above what is required by our charter and code,” he added.

The 2019–20 FBAS reports indicated the shelter took in 32 feral cats, 15 stray cats and 18 stray dogs from law enforcement and the animal control officer.

Councilman Louis Pawlik suggested during the meeting that voters should decide in a referendum whether or not they want to pay for all animals brought to the shelter.

“If the citizens want a regional shelter, they have that right,” said Pawlik. “But, they need to know they will pay for that out of their pockets. We can’t afford $80,000 a year when we’re faced with laying off staff.”

The council agreed.

What happens now

What will happen is anybody’s guess, though if the 17 letters in support of FBAS and the large turnout for the protest Sunday, “Save Our Shelter,” are a valid sampling of the community, the city could extend the monthly contract.

Galligan says she cannot get Coleman to respond to questions or sit down with the FBAS board and go over the sticking points.

On Thursday, the Herald/Review reached out to Coleman, but she said a lawyer engaged by FBAS had spoken with city attorney James Ledbetter, so she was unable to comment since a lawsuit could be pending.

With the end of the month coming and no information forthcoming from the city, FBAS and many Bisbee residents are concerned about the 85 animals housed at the shelter and what will happen to them.