October 15, 2011 in City

Best window for animal shelter may be now

Spokane close to joining regional system, but deal not done
By The Spokesman-Review
 

On the Web: Find candidate bios, videos and summaries of races and measures at spokesman.com/elections.

Efforts to develop a countywide animal-control program have been like trying to land a plane that’s short of fuel on an aircraft carrier in a gale.

The target keeps moving, and there may not be a second chance.

If Spokane County Measure 1 fails to pass in the Nov. 8 general election, the proposed tax levy to acquire a new animal shelter may no longer be viable.

At the very least, the chance of success in a second vote next year may be diminished by competing proposals – such as bond measures to replace Geiger Corrections Center or to replace Spokane Fire Department equipment.

At worst, plans for Spokane to join the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service coalition may dissolve as the parties pursue immediate needs.

A task force concluded the parties can save $200,000 to $260,000 a year by joining forces, and County Commissioner Todd Mielke says he thinks “there’s potential for more.”

Adding Spokane to the SCRAPS operation also offers intangible benefits such as public convenience and consistent levels of service, according to Mielke, who is shepherding the project with help from Spokane Mayor Mary Verner.

Measure 1 – so named to avoid confusion with Spokane Proposition 1 – is simple on its face.

Voters are asked to approve a property tax levy up to 5.8 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for a maximum of nine years.

That would raise an estimated $15 million, enough to acquire land and build a brand new Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service shelter. Officials expect to complete the job for $10 million by renovating an existing building.

If the lower cost can be achieved, the ballot measure will require county commissioners to reduce the levy amount, shorten its term or both.

Even if the full amount is necessary, the cost would be $11.60 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home. The bill falls below $7.75 if the work can be done for $10 million.

The average value of a single-family residence in Spokane County currently is about $175,300.

The measure requires a simple majority to pass.

Aside from the problem of asking for more money in a bad economy, Measure 1 faces three obstacles:

•  Spokane’s current animal-control provider, SpokAnimal C.A.R.E., has reversed its decision to get out of the enforcement business, and wants to retain its contract. SpokAnimal has offered Spokane a 10-year contract for $540,000 a year plus all the license revenue and other fees it collects.

•  The chosen site for a SCRAPS shelter houses two trucking companies with about 100 employees and a payroll approaching $5 million. Company officials say they can’t afford a new building; commissioners are working on a solution.

•  The Spokane Valley City Council opposes Spokane’s demand for its fee to be temporarily locked in at $561,492 plus the cost of inflation. The fee would roughly equal what Spokane now pays to SpokAnimal, but falls short of the estimated cost of SCRAPS service.

Even though Spokane Valley is expected to save money if Spokane joins the coalition, its City Council objects to giving Spokane a break at the expense of current members.

Spokane Valley now pays about 46 percent of SCRAPS costs, and unincorporated Spokane County pays about 49 percent. Millwood, Cheney and Liberty Lake pay the rest.

The Spokane Valley council will review a draft letter Tuesday that will tell county commissioners the city supports a regional approach but not a guaranteed base rate for Spokane.

Spokane and county officials emphasize projections that all SCRAPS customers would save money through economy of scale if Spokane joins the coalition.

“I’m the eternal optimist,” SCRAPS Director Nancy Hill said. “I keep thinking saving money is a good thing.”

Spokane Valley council members noted that projections don’t always pan out, but Spokane would be spared that risk for as many as nine years.

Councilman Bill Gothmann said he wouldn’t object to letting Spokane pay $561,492 in its first year, if the payment were adjusted later to reflect actual costs. That’s how Spokane Valley pays for police service from the county Sheriff’s Office.

Spokane Valley officials are unpersuaded by Verner’s assurances that she doesn’t expect a subsidy.

Verner and Mielke offer another explanation. It’s difficult, they say, to estimate Spokane’s share of SCRAPS with incompatible SpokAnimal records. Population may provide a better guide until valid data is accumulated, they suggest.

While a study showed Spokane would account for 60.3 percent of the SCRAPS workload, Spokane would have only 45.8 percent of the coalition’s population. Verner’s proposed $561,492 fee would have the city pay about 44 percent of the system’s estimated costs.

A negotiated agreement among the SCRAPS coalition members could reduce the period in which Spokane’s rate is locked. As things stand, though, the Spokane City Council has approved only Verner’s call for the special price to last until the levy ends.

New cost estimates may encourage Spokane to pay its actual costs sooner. A previous estimate put the city’s unsubsidized share at $753,236, but county officials now say the correct number is $594,253 – just $32,761 more than Verner proposes to pay.


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