Jackson County animal shelter finally will open

A Kansas-based nonprofit group will operate Jackson County’s new animal shelter, it was announced Monday, ending a months-long dispute over management of the $5.3 million facility.

Great Plains SPCA will operate the 27,000-square-foot shelter at 21001 E. Missouri 78 in Independence. It now is scheduled to open Jan. 1.

Initially, the city of Independence was to operate the shelter.

According to a 2009 agreement, county taxpayers would pay for construction of the facility, but all costs associated with running it would be borne by Independence.

That way the city could close its crowded and out-of-date shelter, and county officials led by legislator and animal lover Dennis Waits of Independence could be assured that strays and unwanted pets were being well cared for.

But as the shelter was about to open this summer, Waits voiced misgivings. He doubted the city could operate the facility as a “no kill” shelter (meaning less than 10 percent of the animals would be euthanized) on the amount of money the city was budgeting for its operation.

In July, one month before the shelter was to open, Waits suggested that the county and city part ways and that the county reach a contract with a nonprofit that had a proven track record of running a no-kill shelter.

The problem was the county and city of Independence still had a legal contract that remained in force through 2040, so the shelter sat empty as the two sides negotiated.

The amended agreement approved by the legislature still leaves Independence the operator of record, but the city then turns around and hires the county to operate the shelter for the next five years. The county, in turn, hires Great Plains to perform that task.

While that part may seem confusing, the dollars and cents are simple. Independence taxpayers will continue to pick up the tab if the City Council ratifies the agreement as expected.

In each of the next two years, the city will pay the county $435,000, which is roughly the same amount of money that Independence had budgeted earlier and that Waits had once said was insufficient.

That will go up to $515,000 in years three, four and five. However, it will be a wash for Independence because the county has agreed to pay the city $80,000 each of those years to gain title to the city-owned land beneath the shelter.

Independence officials are happy because the deal locks in and limits their costs for five years, City Manager Robert Heacock said.

Waits is happy because Great Plains has proved it can run a no-kill shelter in Merriam. Other county officials are pleased that the essence of the original deal remains intact: Independence, not the county, will pay to operate the shelter for the life of the agreement.

“This is a 28-year fix for animal control in this county,” Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders said.

While Waits remains convinced that the amount of money budgeted isn’t enough to operate the facility, he said in an interview that Great Plains would be in a better position to raise additional dollars through donations than a city government ever could.

Also on Monday, the county legislature gave final approval to its 2013 budget. The $300.2 million package included 2 percent merit increases for employees and no tax increase.