FORT PIERCE, Fla. — There's some shakeup in the animal welfare world in St. Lucie County.
The county is backing out of its contract with the new Sunrise Humane Society in Fort Pierce. The partnership was between the county, city and shelter.
County leaders said they no longer felt the shelter's plan for the future was sustainable.
Now, at least two Sunrise Humane Society board members have resigned following the failed negotiation.
The Sunrise Humane Society opened to the public over the summer as a much-needed reset from previous turmoil by a previous shelter.
The previous Humane Society of St. Lucie County was ousted amid code violations, animal welfare concerns and the death of a volunteer.
The Sunrise Humane Society was formed as a fresh start for the city, with new leadership, a newly updated and upgraded building, and a promise of better management and transparency.
County officials said during the negotiation for the 2021-22 budget, the shelter asked for a budget increase of $275,000.
The county said it was willing to pay more money, but only if the city of Fort Pierce would match the same contribution.
Fort Pierce was willing to pay about $15,000 more, but not enough to meet the county’s contribution.
"At the same time, a local veterinarian who has worked with the county through 4-H and a number of other projects, the temporary shelter at the airport, said he was looking to scale back his business," St. Lucie County spokesman Erick Gill said.
In scaling back, the veterinarian offered to sell his property at the Midway Veterinary Hospital. The county now plans to purchase that property, hire new employees and add upgrades to the property for sheltering animals at a cost of $1.3 million.
"We just realized I think it's time for St. Lucie County to manage its own shelter," Gill said. "We control it. We don't rely on a third-party vendor to come in and say we can do it for this price, and they realize six months, a year down the road, they realize it's going to cost more."
Following the failed negotiation, at least two board members for the Sunrise Humane Society turned in their resignation.
Susan Parry, founder of United for Animals, said in her letter, in part:
"We have also taken into consideration the obviously failed contract negotiations that has resulted in the ending of any hopes of a united community set on a path of potentially becoming no kKill. Our community is now divided and now precious resources that could’ve funded SHS operations is lost.
As current board members, it was very uncomfortable to say the least sitting in the St. Lucie County Commission chambers and having to listen to the failures of SHS representatives not providing answers to reasonable questions as well as being accused of not providing critical responsible statistical information needed to aide in contract negotiations.
Much more could be said as reasons for our resignations, but the most impactful reason is the fact that SHS representatives accepted a contract proposal from the city of Fort Pierce that we believe is unsustainable leaving no hope of being capable of responsible shelter operations. SHS representatives accepted a city $150,000 contract proposal and didn't support the county's offer to the city of sharing and splitting a $500,000 contract proposal stating also that the county was expecting too much in services.
We believe we will better serve shelter animals and community animals by putting energy and resources elsewhere."
Current shelter leadership said they remain committed to serving homeless animals in Fort Pierce. The city said it will also look for more ways to help the shelter be successful.