Jackson County animal shelter to open — finally

Jackson County’s new animal shelter is finally set to open, in April, eight months behind schedule caused by a contract dispute between the county and the city of Independence.

“Is this the end of it?” county legislator Bob Spence asked with a note of frustration on Monday.

Yes, it is, his colleague Dennis Waits assured everyone in the room before the body voted 8-1 to approve an amended version of a contract between the city and the county.

Great Plains SPCA, a Kansas-based nonprofit group, will operate the 28,000-square-foot shelter at 21001 E. Missouri 78. Independence and the county will both contribute toward operating costs, while Great Plains, a Kansas-based non-profit, will have to raise substantial funds through donations and fees on its own.

Monday’s vote presumably ends a dispute that began last spring as the city of Independence began making plans to operate the new Regional Animal Shelter built with county funds, but whose operation was to be paid for entirely by the city under terms of a 2009 management contract. Independence could then close its own crowded, out-of-date shelter.

But as the new shelter was nearing a planned August opening, Waits raised doubts that the city could operate the facility as “no kill” operation (meaning less than 10 percent of the animals would be euthanized) on the amount of money Independence planned to set aside in its budget.

At Waits’ urging, County Executive Mike Sanders put out a request for proposals from animal welfare groups interested in running it, but then backed off when Independence insisted that the management agreement was still in force.

Negotiations went on for months and produced an agreement in December that was supposed to settle the dispute. Waits announced a likely Jan. 1 opening date.

But the Independence City Council was not satisfied with the pact and spent weeks discussing changes.

The amended agreement approved by the council and 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, contracted with Great Plains to run the place.

Under the amended agreement, Independence will pay the county $435,000 annually to operate the facility as previously agreed to. But a new provision has the county paying $44,747 out of the health fund to cover the costs of equipment and other expenses that Independence incurred when it was preparing to run the shelter.

The county also agreed to pay $42,359 to cover severance payment for city employees who will lose their jobs when the Independence animal shelter closes.

Under terms of its agreement with Great Plains, the county will pay annually utility costs not to exceed $130,000. That along with the payments from Independence still leaves a budget gap of up to $750,000 between those guaranteed payments and the $1.3 million that Great Plains says it will cost to run the shelter.

Great Plains chief executive Courtney Thomas said her group hopes to make up the difference with adoption fees and other program fees, as well as donations. Based in Merriam, Great Plains contracts with a number of communities on the Kansas side to provide shelter services and has an aggressive fund-raising operation.