Amid uncertainty over its future, the Brazos Animal Shelter is trying to win a contract to service the city of Bryan's animal-control needs -- the very same service that the city recently put up for bid after city officials expressed displeasure with the shelter's raising of its rates to cover its costs.
The shelter has provided services for Bryan, College Station and Brazos County for the past several years, but the more than doubling of the cost of the independent nonprofit's contract with Bryan that was approved in September prompted the city to explore other options for housing stray animals.
Now the shelter is readying a bid in response to Bryan's solicitation of a new provider last month. Shelter board members said last week that they couldn't publicly discuss their bid because Bryan's request for proposals forbids it.
Bryan is taking proposals from qualified firms until Jan. 14 and could select one as early as March 22. The city is seeking complete animal sheltering service that would include programs for adoptions, low-cost spaying and neutering, and animal-care education. Bryan can break its standing contract with the shelter by giving 60 days notice.
If the city picks another provider, the Brazos Animal Shelter would have to move out of its current location at 2207 Finfeather Road in Bryan, which is owned by the city and leased by the shelter.
The shelter owns everything inside the building as well as 17.5 acres on Leonard Road, where it could potentially move to if the city breaks its contract.
The acres were originally purchased for the shelter's planned $5 million, 25,000-square-foot facility.
Bryan Deputy City Manager Hugh Walker said putting the request online would help the city compare what it is currently paying to other services available.
Walker said it's been at least 20 years since the last request was sent out for services, and the city wants to ensure it's using tax dollars efficiently.
"We won't know unless we put something out there," Walker said.
The increase in cost -- the amount charged Bryan by the shelter rose to almost $300,000 in the current budget year from about $145,000 in the previous -- is what drove the city to look elsewhere, said Interim City Manager Kean Register.
"Price increased dramatically in a year where we don't have additional revenues," Register said.
Register said the hope is that the Brazos Animal Shelter can respond to the request with numbers that would better fit the city's budget.
"I would really like for them to be the ones to provide the services if they can do it at a price that is fair to the three parties," he said.
Otherwise, he said, the city believes it can find another agency to operate the shelter at less cost because it's seen examples that work in similar-sized cities. There is also the option of the city operating the shelter itself, he noted, although Bryan isn't really interested in pursuing that direction.
Register said it makes financial sense to engage a provider in concert with College Station and Brazos County.
The possible move to another provider, he added, has nothing to do with the fact the shelter isn't a "no-kill" facility, which some animal-rights activists and community members have called for.
Sharon Shull, one of the organizers of the Spay Neuter Project, said the public needs to understand that the current shelter is required to take any animal brought in. That makes it impossible for the shelter to be a true "no kill" facility.
"Many of the animals brought in are so severely injured or dangerous that it is in the best interest of the public and the animal to have euthanasia as an option," said Shull, whose organization partners with the shelter.
"The amount of money needed to house the number of animals that would result from a 'no kill' policy will far outweigh what the current cost is to house an animal at the Brazos Animal Shelter," she said.
Most "no kill" facilities carefully screen animals for adoptability, which is a costly process, she noted.
Kathy Merrill, College Station's assistant city manager, said her city is staying in contact with Bryan as it goes through the bid process.
"I wouldn't say we're willing to go whatever way they go," she said. "But I think we are all in this together."
College Station, Merrill said, absolutely does not want to go into the shelter business itself but wants to continue to contract out the service.
"We've been perfectly satisfied with the service the Brazos Animal Shelter has been providing," she said.
Merrill said the city realized it wasn't paying its fair amount for the shelter to hold animals for the required three days and, therefore, agreed to the new charges.
"We were willing to pay, even though we thought it was a huge jump all at once," she said. "We still felt we would rather do that than do our own facility."