The feline situation at the Eastern Jackson County Regional Animal Shelter has reached critical mass.

Mayor Eileen Weir said she received an email from the Independence branch of the Great Plains SPCA Monday advising that it could not accept any more cats – the shelter is too full.

“They are over capacity,” Weir said. “The Missouri Department of Agriculture inspected and said they’re not able to accept any more.”

Weir said the shelter at 21001 E. Missouri 78 has about 400 cats and the city is working to make temporary accommodations. It has contacted some local veterinarians to house some cats, while others will be housed at the old No. 4 fire station just west of 23rd and Noland, where city animal control officers will provide care.

It’s a tricky situation because, as Weir said, “It’s very clear in the (city’s) contract with the county – we can’t turn away animals.”

Weir emphasized the urgent need for adoptions from the no-kill shelter – the adoption rate has dropped sharply she said, perhaps due to unawareness of the need for them – and for citizens to spay and neuter cats to curb the number of felines that could potentially end up at the shelter.

The Great Plains SPCA website states that adopters must be at least 18 years old and pet adoption fees are $45 for a cat and $135 for a kitten. For more information about adoptions, call the shelter at 816-783-5104.

New fire chief

City Manager Robert Heacock announced at Monday’s City Council meeting that John Greene, who has served as acting fire chief for three months following the retirement of Chief Sandy Schiess on May 16, has been hired for position on a permanent basis.

Greene, who had been a deputy chief before being named acting chief, has been with Independence Fire Department since 1987.

“I really appreciate the vote of confidence from the city manager,” Greene told the council. “This is my passion, it’s what I do, it’s what I love to do. It’s a great thing to start my career here and work to get to this level.

Greene said he’s considered the possibility of becoming fire chief ever since he joined the chief officer ranks.

“I think it was always in the back of my mind, that if I had the opportunity, it would be an honor to be the chief,” he said.

Greene said one of the major things he wants to emphasize is departmentwide teamwork and communication between his staff and fire personnel.

“It’s one department, not separate things,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”

Development updates

The council on Monday heard the first reading of an ordinance approving a development agreement between the city and Menards, one that allows for reimbursement of up to $2.35 million by the city.

No reimbursement will be provided under the agreement if the Menards store off Little Blue Parkway is not open by June 2017.

Menards can be reimbursed up to $350,000 for road improvement costs from tax increment financing revenues generated by the development project. The I-70 and Little Blue Parkway TIF was approved by the City Council in December 2012.

The developer (Menard, Inc.) can be reimbursed up $2 million for soil remediation costs, which will come from 1/4 of the city’s 1 percent general sales tax revenue. Only $700,000 of that $2 million can be provided for costs related to the actual Menards store, while the remaining $1.3 million would be incurred from costs related to developing the remaining area of the Menards project. The entrance for the entire development is at intersection of Jackson Drive and Little Blue Parkway.

City Manager Robert Heacock couldn’t offer any specific timetable other than the June 2017 benchmark, but made note that there’s no up-front cost to the city with the Menards project.

“It’s a very positive project for Independence moving forward,” he said. “It ties in with the vision for that trade area, which is a regional area. What we’re looking for is the ultimate development of the entire site.”

Also, the council approved the development project for Unilever, which calls for the city to issue up to $130 million in no-risk bonds.

Unilever is moving its Wishbone salad dressing operation elsewhere from its 35th Street plant, keeping its iced tea mix operation and bringing in production of soups, sauces, gravies and side dishes from Canada. It expects to keep the current 180 jobs and add another 70.

At the plant, Unilever plans to renovate 21,819 square feet, demolish 28,961 square feet and add to two multistory buildings, another 58,453 square feet. The expansion is slated to cost more than $19.3 million, with an additional $78.7 million invested in new equipment and technology, according to information provided at the June meeting when the council first resolved to issue the bonds.

“It’s a difference-maker for the city, not only in retaining jobs but in expansion,” Heacock said, adding that special thanks goes to Tom Lesnak, president of the Independence Economic Development Council, for his work in putting the deal together.