Dugan asks Humane Society to consider selling shelter to county
A proposal by the Humane Society to lease its dog shelter facilities to the county’s Animal Control department for $1 per year is still under consideration, while County Commission president Stacy Dugan expressed interest in the county buying the group’s shelter along U.S. 522.
Humane Society head George Farnham said they would think about that option, but wouldn’t sell the two acres and multiple kennels for less than fair market value.
When asked what that value might be, Farnham said the group would need an appraisal, but he imagined it would be at least $150,000.
Commissioner Brad Close had asked if the group could include a right of first refusal on the property, so the county could make a first offer if the group decided to sell its operations.
County officials decided to visit the shelter property on March 6 as a group.
In the meantime, Prosecutor Debra McLaughlin will look over a lease contract drawn up by Humane Society attorney Tina Byers. The contract would dictate the conditions of a lease arrangement, where the county’s Animal Control organization would take over use of the Humane Society’s 17 dog kennels, isolation areas and dog adoption offices.
The group has said it will soon stop handling dogs, and will focus exclusively on the care and adoption of cats.
Farnham said his group looks on the lease arrangement as a sort of matching grant to the county.
“We could ask you to rent it at $1,000 per month,” Farnham said. By offering a $1 per year lease for 10 years, the group is choosing a different route, he said.
“The Humane Society is throwing $20,000 on the table and asking the county to come up with the same amount of money to increase the care of dogs,” said Farnham.
Animal budget “under funded”
He pointed out that neighboring Hampshire County has an Animal Control budget of $80,000, not including the salaries of its officers.
“Morgan County’s budget is $40,000, including salaries,” he said, noting that budget amount hadn’t increased from where it was 10 years ago.
“Basically Animal Control is under funded. The county doesn’t even meet the state’s minimum level of care,” Farnham said.
He said the county’s choice not to vaccinate seized dogs for rabies and other diseases, and the lack of quarantine space had led to several dog deaths while in county custody.
“It never happens in the Humane Society and it shouldn’t happen at Animal Control,” he said.
Farnham said many people volunteer their time and contribute money to the Humane Society, and would likely do the same for Animal Control operations at the 522 shelter.
“We have a donor of a large amount of money that would donate that to the county if you enact this lease agreement,” he said.
“You’re already understaffed and underfinanced and conditions at your kennel are unsanitary and it’s only going to get worse,” Farnham predicted.
Animal Control sees need
Animal Control officer Holly Jack largely agreed with Farnham’s assessment.
“Animal Control needs to be able to function at a higher level than it does right now. That facility could accommodate more animals at an improved level of health,” said Jack.
She said Animal Control serves more of a law enforcement role right now.
Jack blamed poor design of the kennel for some of the county’s trouble keeping the facility clean and free of disease.
“I don’t have numbers of how many animals we’ve lost to disease,” said Jack.
“I see this as a middle way between what we have and what we’d love to have,” she said of the facility proposal.
“It would be a definite improvement in facilities and health stats for the dogs, and it would meet our need in situations like foreclosures or owner-surrenders,” she said.
“I believe our citizens expect us to increase our level of service and if they were aware of the conditions at our kennel, they would support this,” said Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson of the lease agreement.
She suggested that an outside group could be formed to do fundraising on behalf of Animal Control, so the operation of an expanded facility wouldn’t be a burden on taxpayers.
Debra McLaughlin suggested further financial discussions should be part of the county’s budget meetings, planned for March 8. She will review the proposed lease agreement with the commissioners on March 1.