Editorials

Why are Jackson County taxpayers footing the bill for Independence animal shelter?

The push for a new KC animal shelter

Teresa Johnson, CEO of KC Pet Project, gave a tour of the Kansas City Animal Shelter on Raytown Road in March 2017. Since then, KC has moved forward with building a new animal shelter in Swope Park.
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Teresa Johnson, CEO of KC Pet Project, gave a tour of the Kansas City Animal Shelter on Raytown Road in March 2017. Since then, KC has moved forward with building a new animal shelter in Swope Park.

Of the 3,900 pets housed last year at the regional animal shelter in eastern Independence, fewer than 300 of them were picked up in unincorporated Jackson County. The others were rescued from less than desirable conditions in the city of Independence.

So why are Jackson County taxpayers on the hook financially for operating the shelter?

Later this month, the Jackson County Legislature will consider a two-year animal shelter contract that would pay Independence nearly $500,000. That includes $240,000 to purchase the land where the no-kill shelter sits and $100,000 per year for Independence to manage the Jackson County-owned facility, which cares for stray animals picked up in Independence and rural areas of the county.

Independence will lease the building for $1 in return.

But the new arrangement, hashed out in the aftermath of the surprise departure of the current shelter operator, appears unlikely to solve many of the problems that have plagued the facility, including a lack of resources.

In January, Great Plains SPCA notified Jackson County that the agency would no longer manage the six-year-old, $5 million shelter.

After being consistently underfunded, Great Plains bailed just one year into a five-year deal. Jackson County’s contribution of about $550,000 a year wasn’t enough to keep the Merriam, Kansas-based pet adoption center on board.

The messy breakup ends a unique, albeit controversial county-approved agreement that called for Jackson County to allocate funding to Great Plains using money provided by Independence.

Now, the new proposal raises questions about why Jackson County is paying for a shelter that benefits Independence almost exclusively.

“We always have concerns with how much we are spending, but it was in the best interest of the county and Independence to come up with a solution,” said county legislator Tony Miller, chair of the legislature’s land use committee. “We see this as a step in the right direction.”

Independence has an obligation to take in unwanted, stray or abandoned animals, said Michelle Rivera, founder and CEO of Spay and Neuter Kansas City.

But if the city wants to operate a no-kill shelter, it needs to develop a comprehensive plan to address overcrowding and commit the financial resources needed to maintain the facility.

Running a no-kill a shelter is expensive, and animal rights advocates say the county’s nearly $500,000 commitment isn’t enough to mitigate overcrowding and address other issues.

Independence officials are hanging their hopes for shelter funding on an August election that will ask voters to levy a tax on online sales. The use tax would provide up to $750,000 annually for the shelter. But that looks like a long shot at best — just last year, 61% of Independence voters rejected a use tax.

If Proposition P fails in August, what’s Plan B for the animal shelter?

Independence leaders have paid lip service to the idea of operating a first-rate animal shelter. But they haven’t done much of the work needed to develop and fund a realistic long-term plan. And asking Jackson County to foot the bill isn’t the answer.

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