Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON – The Marshall County Fiscal Court voted down a proposal by the Humane Society last week which could leave the county needing to make expansions at its animal shelter before the end of the year. Court members voting against the decision said the plan would cost additional funds and leave the county with nothing to show for its investment.
The modified proposal called for the county to enter into a 10-year lease with the Humane Society of Marshall County. The agreement would give the county access to the 16-acre property along U.S. Hwy. 68. The proposal also requested Humane Society President Dr. Bert Johnson to be placed on a committee to oversee the county’s shelter operations.
In a vote on the proposal during their regular meeting, the court deadlocked 2-2. Judge Executive Mike Miller and Commissioner Bob Gold cast votes against the contract, saying they were in favor of spending tax dollars on something the county would own.
“We were very disappointed in the outcome on that one,” Johnson said. “We thought it was win-win situation for the animals in Marshall County. We have over $350,000 in our facility and the land with it. It’s state-of-the-art.”
Following the county’s decision, Johnson said the Humane Society would have to close the Hwy. 68 facility this year. Johnson said they would try and make it through the busy spring and summer months before shutting down.
That will likely add to the county’s animal control services. The Humane Society averages about 45 animals at any given time. If they close, the county animal shelter– which stays near capacity– will have to cope with additional animals.
Miller said he was sympathetic to the Humane Society’s cause, but said the county and staff at the shelter had worked diligently on improvements since last year. If the Humane Society does stop accepting animals, Miller said the county would be able to add on to its current facility.
Other members of the court argued in favor of increasing the county’s footprint.
“Over the course of the last year, in their words, their mission is complete,” said Commissioner Misti Drew, who voted in favor of the proposal. “They feel like the county has done a tremendous job in turning around the animal shelter. They can’t be as competitive as we are since the county animal shelter is subsidized through taxpayer funds.”
Drew and Johnson contend the county’s progress and lowered expenses would offset the cost of expanding into the Hwy. 68 facility.
According to their 2010 budget, the Humane Society spent $63,435, primarily on staff. Of the budget, $10,687 went to monthly obligations (water, electric, gas, telephone and internet services). The bulk of operating expenses were $42,146 for employee costs.
The cost would be in addition to the county’s current animal control budget. Spending $44,100 for kennel personnel and $49,300 for dog warden services, the county’s total animal control budget last year was $94,505. Improvements at the shelter– including increased adoptions and reduced euthanizations– helped the county come in $38,494 under its 2012 budget.
“We’re at the point at our own animal shelter where we’re going to have to expand,” Drew said. “We have a $25,000 expansion grant that is going to add four kennels. That’s not going to solve our problem. We’re going to have to start putting animals down again.”
But with operating numbers close in comparison, Commissioner Gold said he preferred to spend the money expanding the county’s current operation, which taxpayers would own as opposed to renting property.
“There are alternatives,” Gold said. “We’re using these same numbers, these budget cuts which are tremendous. I would propose we use two years of that and add 40 [dog] runs. I think that’s absolutely feasible. Take another year and add some office space out the front. At that point, when you’ve finished with those projects, at the end of 10 years you’ll have a 60-run facility, you’ll have office space and saved $175,000.”
Gold said he estimated in the same 10-year span, if the court agreed to the Humane Society’s proposal, the county would be back where it is now, but at a loss.
“I think we’re [considering] the Humane Society deal because it’s expedient,” Gold said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily the most cost effective way of doing it. It’ll take probably two or three months to get those runs in. I just hate to spend all those dollars and end up with nothing at the end of 10 years.”
Gold said the county also had to consider its current use of inmate labor and costs it would incur transporting them away from the current secured campus.
Miller said the county would continue improving its current facility and urged the court to contact area veterinarians about providing services. The county had previously been approached by Dr. Paul Jaco about cremation services. According to Jaco, the county could purchase the necessary equipment for about $8,000 and, after costs, could generate a small profit offering cremation services.
Jaco said he presented the proposal to Drew, but never heard back from the county. Last week the Humane Society further extended its proposal to allow the county to use its cremation services.