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County puts shelter on ballot

Wed., Aug. 17, 2011

Levy request will raise up to $15 million

Voters will decide this fall whether to replace the overcrowded, awkwardly located Spokane County animal shelter.

Divided county commissioners decided Tuesday to place a nine-year property tax levy on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Todd Mielke and Al French supported the referendum; Mark Richard opposed it.

The measure, designed to raise up to $15 million, would cost the owner of a $200,000 home a maximum of 97 cents a month. It would be capped at 5.8 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The cost could be less if the city of Spokane decides not to participate in what is intended to be a regional project. Commissioners could reduce the size of the shelter and cut the rate or duration or the levy.

Although Spokane Mayor Mary Verner supports the regional approach, a wavering Spokane City Council has yet to take a position. Frustrated county commissioners decided Tuesday to give voters a “worst-case scenario” that gets better if Spokane helps.

Commissioners want to renovate a Spokane-owned warehouse at 1001 N. Havana St., catercorner from the county fairgrounds. Studies indicated the renovation would cost about $10 million while new construction might cost $15 million.

Although city officials suggested using the warehouse, they failed to offer the county a purchase option by Tuesday’s deadline for submitting a ballot measure.

To some extent, voters will have the power to force the City Council’s hand. Because the levy must be countywide, Spokane taxpayers would help pay it.

If the levy passes, city officials will have to decide whether to take advantage of their constituents’ contribution.

Unlike a bond measure, the levy requires only a simple majority for approval. Still, it is unlikely to pass without strong support in Spokane.

Currently, the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service serves Spokane Valley, Cheney, Millwood, Liberty Lake and unincorporated portions of the county.

Those areas have a combined population of 247,103. Spokane has 209,100 residents – 44.2 percent of the entire county’s population.

“We hope that, by having a new shelter, we will be able to accept more cities into the coalition,” SCRAPS Director Nancy Hill said.

Lacking Spokane City Council agreement to sell the building Hill wants, commissioners made a $10,000 earnest-money offer Tuesday on a next-door warehouse complex.

If sellers Paul and Willene Allison accept the offer, the county will have until Dec. 31 to back out of the deal and keep its money.

Richard dissented, noting a cursory examination suggested most if not all of the buildings on the site would have to be demolished.

Mielke and French said that’s why the proposed levy was ratcheted up to the $15 million new-construction price. However, at less than $1.2 million, the Allison site is potentially much less expensive than the city’s property, which could cost up to $2.7 million.

Earlier Tuesday, Spokane City Administrator Ted Danek offered to ask the City Council for a sale agreement before the general election.

However, commissioners were frustrated by the mayor’s written proposal to wait until after the levy vote to decide whether to contract with SCRAPS. Also, Richard objected to Verner’s call for the city to soak up all the estimated $200,000 savings from regionalizing animal control.

“That’s what I’m kind of wrapped around the axle on,” Richard said.

Danek said Verner was adamant that the city will not sign a SCRAPS contract that costs the city more than the current SpokAnimal C.A.R.E. contract. That would require use of the entire regional savings as a subsidy.

Hill said she was confident that, in time, Spokane would pay the same rate as other customers.

Meanwhile, she said, SCRAPS has a “critical” need for a new shelter. The current building, at 2521 N. Flora Road, is remote and squeezed between a county gravel pit and a Union Pacific rail line.

About 70 people share desks and two toilets on a maxed-out septic system, Hill said. But expansion isn’t feasible because the nearest fire hydrant and sewer line are on the other side of the railroad tracks.

Hill said a central location on a bus route and a partnership with Spokane would greatly improve SCRAPS’ ability to recruit volunteers and donations.

City support also would make it much easier to pass the levy, she said.

“It’s like a really nicely wrapped package.”


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