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Future of Independence animal shelter remains unclear

By Jeff Fox and Mike Genet jeff.fox@examiner.net mike.genet@examiner.net

Jackson County and the city of Independence continue discussions to transfer ownership of the Regional Animal Shelter from the county to city.

County Administrator Troy Schulte told county legislators this week that the county “should have an offer forthcoming shortly. … The ball is in Independence’s court.”

The city confirmed that those talks go back to 2019.

The issue came up Monday as legislators discussed refinancing the bonds the county issued 10 years ago to build the shelter on Missouri 78 in eastern Independence. That would take advantage of low interest rates and the county’s improved credit rating, and it would save the county more than $1 million over the life of the bonds, the county’s bond adviser said.

Independence city officials said the animal shelter remains an “ongoing discussion,” though Mayor Eileen Weir said she has not had direct discussion about it for some time.

As of Thursday, the City Council’s agenda for Monday did not include the animal shelter.

“There’s no imminent action,” Weir said.

County officials have expressed frustration with the animal shelter arrangement at times, and that came up again Monday.

Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City, said the arrangement is unfair to county taxpayers.

“This goes on and on and on,” she said.

Most of the current county legislators were not in the Legislature when the city and county struck their original deal. Legislator Tony Miller, D-Lee’s Summit, acknowledged the frustration.

“We inherited this from many moons ago,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is find a responsible path forward. … We’re going to do two things: Hopefully we can refinance the debt that we all inherited and save the county and taxpayers money. And then also continue our conversations about the future of whatever animal care looks like going forward for the county.”

The original deal was for the county to build the facility on city land with what some took as a tacit understanding that the city Health Department would run it, replacing the city’s old shelter and serving both Independence and unincorporated parts of the county.

But once the shelter was built, the county chose the Great Plains SPCA to run it instead. That group constantly said the shelter lost money despite funding from the county, much of which came from the city of Independence. After five years, Great Plains dropped its contract.

The city agreed to step in July 2019 and promised to keep it a no-kill shelter. To help offset costs the county bought the shelter’s seven acres from the city for $240,000 and leased it back for $1. The county also agreed to pay a $100,000 annual subsidy for two years, giving the city time to evaluate shelter operations. 

The next month, Independence voters approved the online use tax, with the city’s promise that those revenues would be split between the shelter and adding police officers. Officials estimated that would net about $750,000 annually toward shelter operations.

Weir acknowledged that the city-county relationship with owning and operating the shelter can be “problematic for everybody involved,” and she doesn’t know about how much it would cost to buy the shelter. City Manager Zach Walker said it would be too early to guess such a figure.

Both sides, Weir said, are trying to figure out how best to serve the public with animal services in Independence and unincorporated parts of the county.