• 'Frustration' cited for potential amendment on Animal Shelter

  • In the eyes of Independence City Council members, so much doesn’t make sense in a proposal before them for operations of the new regional animal shelter.

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  • In the eyes of Independence City Council members, so much doesn’t make sense in a proposal before them for operations of the new regional animal shelter.
    For two hours Monday night, the council asked dozens of questions related to an amendment to an agreement that the city and Jackson County first approved in 2009. The council is scheduled to vote on that amendment this coming Monday.
    After months of not knowing what the future of the new shelter on Missouri 78 held in terms of operations, on Nov. 30, an amendment to the 2009 agreement emerged. The County Legislature approved the amendment on Dec. 3, and also approved a separate five-year contract with Great Plains SPCA to run the shelter, effective Jan. 1.
    The 2009 deal between the city and county called for the county to build the roughly $5 million shelter on land the city owns near the Truman Road and Missouri 78 intersection in eastern Independence. The city’s role was to run it and pay for those operations, closing the smaller shelter on Vista Avenue.
    But that original agreement hit a snag regarding the operation of the shelter over the summer.
    Great Plains SPCA responded to the city’s request for bids, but the city opted not to use them because it felt it could operate the shelter itself at much lower cost. As part of its 2012-13 budget in July, the city had approved funds for its employees to operate the new regional shelter.
    In July, the county asked for more time to finalize things and it notified city officials that it would provide potential options for running the shelter, with 60 to 90 days of notice.
    “That did not occur,” Heacock said, adding that he was told the Jackson County Legislature had to move forward at its Dec. 3 meeting since it was the legislators' last meeting in 2012 and the county’s budget had to be adopted. “… I, too, wish we had more time to work through these things, but we are where we are.”
    Gragg questions whether the amendment is the best deal for citizens and city employees and what the main reason is for changing the agreement.
    “Why is it better for someone, outside of Independence employees, to manage the facility?” Gragg said.
    At one time, Gragg said, a Jackson County legislator had raised concerns to her regarding the city’s likelihood of maintaining a no-kill shelter.
    According to data available through the end of November, the Independence Animal Shelter has put down 8.5 percent of all animals taken in, including a 3.3 percent rate in November, falling below the 10 percent national threshold for euthanasia.
    “Six months, a year later, we look at our numbers, and clearly, we are considered a no-kill shelter,” Gragg said.
    Page 2 of 3 - Another reason given for contracting with a nonprofit organization was such an organization’s ability to raise funds, Gragg said. When the city received a proposal from Great Plains SPCA in early 2012, no fundraising figures were provided, Gragg said. A local nonprofit could have been formed to handle those fundraising responsibilities, Gragg said, separate from an organization that also does fundraising with other animal shelters, especially ones in Kansas.
    “I’m really disappointed with how this has been handled – not by our staff – but by those outside who have just put us in a box, I feel, to make this decision,” Gragg said. “There is a lot on our plate before us to decide whether there is even a reason to amend the agreement.
    “… I’m not sure that amending the agreement is in our best interest, period, if this is as far as (the county) is willing to come toward us.”
    Dougherty also said he was disappointed in how the city was treated.
    “(The county) won’t honor the contract that they accepted and that many of these (City Council) members signed off on,” Dougherty said, “and now we’re supposed to trust them on a Part B of a contract when we can’t trust them on the first part.”
    Dougherty also said he is disappointed that no faith has been shown in city employees who’ve helped improve the Independence Animal Shelter in recent years. He said the city should have been given a chance to run the new shelter for six months or a year before the county put out bids for a nonprofit organization.
    If the amendment moves forward, after the five-year agreement, the shelter “will be dumped” back on the city, Dougherty said, including the operational and maintenance expenses. He also questioned why the new shelter was constructed without a new incinerator and why the city will continue the expenses of operating the existing incinerator at 875 S. Vista Ave.
    “I’m not going to vote on this until I see the details,” Dougherty said. “The document we have talks in big generalities.”
    The amendment is just for five years, and, if it is approved by the city, a new agreement would be negotiated for operations of the shelter after those five years are up.
    “I think we need to spell out exactly how we would examine the performance, not only at the end of the five years, but throughout and how often we could actually come into the facility and perform our own audits,” Whiting said.
    Heacock said Whiting raised a good point, and he added that he has thought it would be useful – if the amendment moves forward – for the nonprofit operator and a Jackson County representative to meet with the Independence Advisory Board of Health.
    Page 3 of 3 - “I think a lot of it you’re going to know,” Heacock said. “Quite frankly, with animal shelter operations I’ve been associated with, when things aren’t going well and the public is unhappy with the care of the animals, you hear – people are not bashful at voicing their opinion on whether things are going well or not.”
    Weir said citizens should remember that the city’s agreement is with Jackson County but also said county officials were presumptuous in establishing an agreement with a nonprofit organization when the City Council had not yet approved the amendment to the 2009 agreement.
    “There certainly is cause to wonder when the deal that was agreed to wasn’t honored now, then why would we expect for it to be honored later?” Weir said, adding that if the city were to sell the land where the new shelter exists, it would affect its ability to potentially operate the shelter after the five-year amendment runs out.
    If the council approves the amendment, Weir said she wants assurance that the county reports how the city’s finances are being used to operate the new shelter.
    She, like several other council members, also questioned why Great Plains SPCA’s proposed expense to operate the shelter was significantly lower under the county’s bidding process than the original numbers presented under the city’s bidding process nearly a year ago.
    “I think there needs to be much more detail put into this proposed agreement,” Weir said. “That said, I think the city does a fine job of operating the Animal Shelter. Do I think it could be better? Yes. I think it could be better, and I think that all of us have room for improvement, and I think certainly this new facility allows us room to improve.”

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