Since 2008, leaders from jurisdictions throughout Spokane County have been meeting as part of a regional animal control task force.
At times, the group – which includes mayors, county commissioners and representatives from various city councils – has conducted discussions at the headquarters of Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service on Flora Road in Spokane Valley – on folding chairs in a chilly garage.
Lack of meeting space is just one of the shortfalls of the current location in the far eastern section of the Spokane Industrial Park, say proponents of Spokane County Measure No. 1, an initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that would add up to 5.8 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value and sunset after nine years unless reauthorized by another vote. The levy request, which requires only a simple majority – or any margin over 50 percent for passage – would replace the current county animal shelter facility with a larger, modernized site and pave the way for a blended regional agency, something SCRAPS Director Nancy Hill says would be a benefit to pets and animal advocates throughout Spokane County.
“It would mean a standard, uniform enforcement of laws and public policy,” Hill said.
The levy hike would translate into an additional 83 cents per month for the owner of a home valued at the local market average of $176,000.
Hill, who has served as the agency’s director since 1995, said a shelter with an updated air-exchange system would improve the health and safety of animals that stay at the site. A new, energy efficient location would also save money in the long run, Hill said.
“Right now, it’s like heating a barn,” she said.
The 13,000 square foot building – now over 40 years old – is also connected to a septic system instead of modern sewer. Lack of storage has also been an issue. Hill said a larger space would also mean more room for volunteers, educational programming and community events.
Approval of the levy increase would clear the way for the renovation of one of two locations near the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. Hill said there is a reasonable possibility that, based on the cost to purchase and refurbish the site, the levy rate and/or duration could be reduced. Currently, the levy is expected to generate up to $15 million over nine years, starting in 2012.
“We could be talking about $10 million instead,” Hill said.
That sum is connected to research by an architect commissioned by Spokane County that found the retrofitting of an existing building would potentially cut the cost of a shelter by one-third as compared to building from the ground up. One of the sites being considered by the county is an industrial building at Havana and Broadway owned by the city of Spokane. The other, just to the south, is owned by a local property management group.
Hill and Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke have spoken at a trio of town hall meetings over the past month, presenting the facts on the ballot initiative. The latest gathering took place Wednesday at the dommissioners hearing room. The Board of Commissioners approved placement of the vote
back in August.
“I think we’re making a pretty good case why this facility needs to be replaced,” Mielke said.
One piece of the regional animal protection puzzle that has yet to materialize is the role of the city of Spokane. While city officials have taken part in the task force and have been, in the words of Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, “committed to that regional approach,” the city has yet to make a decision on the most recent proposal by SpokAnimal, which has provided animal protection services for Spokane since 1984. Last month, SpokAnimal presented an offer of continuing the contract at a yearly rate of $540,000 over 10 years.
Mielke said the latest SpokAnimal proposal “does not represent any operational savings” for Spokane and does nothing to address the need for a new SCRAPS facility. He noted that the Spokane City Council voted 6-1 in August to support a letter written by Verner that positively reinforces the regional approach and endorses moving ahead on an interlocal agreement with Spokane County.
Mielke said the failure of Measure No. 1 would effectively take the regional strategy off the drawing board.
“We’ve been talking about this for 10 years,” he said. “I think people are getting it.”
SCRAPS currently provides animal protection services for the cities of Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Cheney, Millwood and unincorporated Spokane County.
In addition to a uniform set of policies and procedures, Hill said a combined regional agency would provide the public with one central facility to locate lost animals while serving as a potential shared adoption site for SCRAPS, SpokAnimal and the Spokane Humane Society. The Humane Society’s board of directors has officially endorsed Measure No. 1.