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Mon., Aug. 29, 2011, 10:21 p.m.

Animal shelter tax gets boost from City Council

A unified regional animal control system won important, though qualified, support tonight from city leaders.

The Spokane City Council voted 6-1 to endorse Mayor Mary Verner’s stance on a proposed nine-year county property tax that would pay for a new animal shelter for the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service.

Verner has told county commissioners that she will back the tax if the county agrees to let Spokane join the system for the same amount the city is paying its nonprofit provider, SpokAnimal C.A.R.E., this year (about $561,000) plus increases to account for inflation over the next nine years. The county would keep the city’s dog and cat license revenue.

“This way, we have control over our own destiny, at least for nine years,” said Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin.

The Spokane County Commission already placed the tax, which is expected to cost the owner of a $100,000 property about $4 to $6 a year, on the November ballot.

How to provide animal control services has long been a predicament at City Hall, especially in the past decade after SpokAnimal officials notified the city that they no longer wanted to be in the role of dogcatcher. In response, the City Council voted in 2008 to join SCRAPS. But that deal fell apart the next year after city voters rejected a public safety tax that included money to expand a SCRAPS shelter on Flora Raod.

In the years since, city and county officials decided to pursue construction of a new animal control building rather than expand the SCRAPS facility because it lacks sewer service, has poor access as a result of a rail line that crosses Flora and isn’t centrally located.

Under the deal, the city would sell the county land and a building it bought using federal money to build a Havana Street bridge over rail tracks near Broadway. City administrators, who estimated the fair market price at about $2 million, said the city would be able to keep the money as long as it’s used for arterial street projects. The county would remodel the building into a shelter and continue to manage SCRAPS.

Councilman Richard Rush said he is concerned that the city hasn’t considered what happens after nine years. He and others noted that regional partnerships haven’t fared well in recent years. City leaders decided in 2008 to pull out of the Spokane County District Court and create their own municipal court. The county hopes to leave the city-managed regional trash system in the next few years.

Councilman Bob Apple cast the lone vote against Verner’s response to the county tax. He said new taxes aren't needed because SpokAnimal is willing to continue being the city’s provider.

But others said the regional deal is an opportunity to keep rates steady and create a unified system that would be less confusing to the public. Spokane’s Internal Auditor Rick Romero noted that SpokAnimal’s rate has increased to $561,000 this year from $206,000 in 2005.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s awful good,” said Council President Joe Shogan.

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Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt joined The Spokesman-Review in 2004. He is the government editor. He previously was a reporter who covered Spokane City Hall, Spokane County government and public safety.

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