November 6, 2010 in City

Animal shelter plans advance

Regional officials studying warehouse near fairgrounds
By The Spokesman-Review

Plans for a new regional animal-control shelter took a step forward this week when public officials warmed to a site near the county fairgrounds.

County Commissioner Todd Mielke said city and county officials agreed Wednesday that converting a warehouse at 1001 N. Havana St. “makes sense.”

The property, owned by the city of Spokane, is well-located – on major arterials at the border between Spokane and Spokane Valley – and is the right size for a new Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service shelter.

The current shelter, on the edge of a county gravel pit at 2521 N. Flora Road, already is overcrowded and can’t accommodate Spokane as a new customer.

Spokane City Administrator Ted Danek said the city is committed to contracting with the county animal-control service. “It’s just a question of how we do it.”

Existing SCRAPS customers are Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Cheney, Millwood and Fairchild Air Force Base.

Use of the city-owned property could help Spokane pay its share of facility costs with less out-of-pocket cash. But the plan depends heavily on help from the federal government.

Based on what Mielke described as “some very aggressive assumptions,” the Havana Street site could provide a larger shelter without a bond measure.

It all depends on putting together a project that costs no more than $6.35 million.

That amount, financed over 20 years and coupled with a $483,000 cut in projected annual operating costs and a $420,000 increase in revenue, would allow Spokane and other SCRAPS users to continue paying their current rates.

“We’ve given ourselves until March to see if we can make that thing pencil,” Mielke said.

Otherwise, he said, a bond measure may be presented next August. Officials have estimated that a $15 million bond measure would be needed to buy land and put up a new building.

The key to the Havana Street alternative is for federal officials to waive Spokane’s obligation to repay transportation funds used to buy the site. Part of the property was needed to build a railroad overpass, and the city had to buy all of it – for $2.7 million.

Ordinarily, Spokane would have to pay back any money it recovered from the unused portion, but federal officials may forgive some or all of the debt for public projects.

“Frequently, we do get (to keep) properties like this for substantially less than we paid for them,” said Gavin Cooley, Spokane’s chief financial officer.

Even without having to pay for the property, efforts to avoid a bond measure face an uphill battle.

Mielke said an architect’s estimate of the renovation cost exceeds the $6.3 million coalition members can afford. He declined to say by how much.

“Everything that we have is just very rough, back-of-napkin stuff,” Mielke said.

Cooley said he hopes to cut renovation costs with less-expensive materials and other measures, much as the city recently acquired a police evidence building for about one-third the originally estimated cost.

Mielke said the first task is to see what can be done to reduce projected operating costs.

An analysis shows Spokane and existing SCRAPS users can save $306,046 a year by working together. That doesn’t reflect Spokane’s cost to establish its own shelter, which could put the savings in excess of $500,000 a year, Mielke said.

Danek said another benefit of the negotiations is improvement in the city’s ability to work with the county, Spokane Valley and other local governments.

“If we can get SCRAPS, I think it should provide a really good template for other projects and other business that we have to do together,” Danek said.

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