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City picks county for animal control

After years of talk, the Spokane City Council on Monday agreed to join a county-run regional animal control agency.

Council members thanked the nonprofit group that has handled animal control since 1984, SpokAnimal C.A.R.E., for its service, but said a regional service would provide stability.

“It comes down to, this evening, a long-term solution,” said Councilman Michael Allen.

Also Monday, the council approved significant pet license fee increases aimed at shifting more of the cost of animal control to pet owners. Council members Bob Apple and Richard Rush voted against the increases.

The new fees affect spayed and neutered pets. Altered cat licenses will increase from $8 to $15. Dog licenses will rise from $13 to $25.

SpokAnimal and Spokane County officials had requested the city create rates that mimic the county’s, which are lower.

Spokane will pay the county $1.5 million a year to perform animal control starting in 2010. The county will return to the city all the license fees it makes from city residents.

City leaders still must decide how they will raise $2.9 million to expand the county’s shelter and pay for equipment and animal control trucks.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said she has not decided how to fund the cost for a new shelter. It could be raised through current taxes or the city could ask voters for new taxes to pay for a bond.

The county’s animal control department, Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, serves the unincorporated county, Spokane Valley and some smaller communities. It expects to more than double its staff to handle the city’s animal control.

After originally telling the city that it didn’t want to continue performing animal control after its contract is up at the end of 2009, SpokAnimal submitted a proposal last week competing with the county’s animal control department.

SpokAnimal offered to continue performing the city’s animal control services for three more years for $778,000 a year plus whatever amount it collects from pet license fees. SpokAnimal estimates it would make $350,000 a year in fees, while the city says it’s likely much higher.

The group also offered the city a five-year option if the city built a new shelter. At the end of the contract, however, the city would have to start its own animal control department – a prospect some council members rejected.

Councilman Bob Apple, the lone vote against switching to the county, said SpokAnimal’s plan would save taxpayer money.

“I don’t think anybody really anticipates the real cost the public will have to pay” under the county plan, Apple said. Using the county means the city will have to invest a significant amount that it doesn’t have, he said.

Dave Richardson, executive director of the Spokane Humane Society, e-mailed council members that his group preferred the creation of a regional organization run by the county.

“We believe that a single facility caring for strays will greatly improve the numbers of re-homed pets and provide a higher degree of service to the citizens in the city and county,” Richardson said.

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Then and Now: Comstock Park

James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.