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IC animal shelter seeking to share costs

By Lori Lindner
Solon Economist
JOHNSON COUNTY– If the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center is going to continue to be a resource for the entire county, officials say it’s time for every participant to pony up.
Earlier this month, the City of Iowa City sent a letter to 12 entities in Johnson County that have used the shelter’s services for dealing with stray animals. It originated from the office of Iowa City Chief of Police Samuel Hargadine, because the animal shelter falls under the Iowa City Police Department for budgeting purposes.
The city and its animal shelter are at a critical decision making point, Hargadine said, about the construction of a new facility.
Since the original building on Kirkwood Avenue was flooded in 2008, the Animal Care and Adoption Center has been operating out of a warehouse-style building at 4852 Sand Road. While the landlord has been very accommodating, Hargadine said in a telephone interview last week, the building was not designed to house an animal care operation and that’s been problematic.
Neither can the old location at Kirkwood be rehabilitated.
“It would have to be razed,” said Hargadine. “It flooded in 1993 as well, and FEMA is only good for so many buy-outs. The site is landlocked between railroad tracks and a creek. Even prior to the flood of ’08, we discussed building an expanded shelter.”
The proposed location for a new facility is 3800 Napoleon Lane in Iowa City. FEMA and the State of Iowa are expected to pay around $1.4 million toward its construction, based on the size of the old building (7,000 sq. ft).
However, in order to accommodate the number of animals who come to the shelter from outside Iowa City, another 2,000 sq. ft. is needed. Cost for the total project was estimated at around $4.2 million, according to a study by Jackson & Ryan Architects completed in 2009.
After FEMA’s anticipated contribution and insurance payments, there will still be $2.6 million to fund, and the City of Iowa City would like other municipalities and county entities to pay their fair share of both the building and its future operating costs if they intend to continue to utilize the shelter’s services.
Iowa City officials used data from 2009-2011 to calculate each jurisdiction’s average use over the past three years, and translated those figures into percentages of overall operating costs and the capital outlay for a new building.
For Solon, it amounted to a request of $25,655 for construction and an annual contribution of $6,511 for operating costs.
Currently, only Johnson County, the City of Solon and the City of Coralville have active contracts with the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center, which dictates a fee schedule for taking in, boarding and providing other necessary services for an animal from one of those areas.
Among other miscellaneous costs, Solon pays Iowa City $150 for each animal boarded, for example, regardless of the number of days it stays; $200 for each animal quarantined for 10 days; and $75 for preparation and transport of rabies samples, as well as mileage and wages when Iowa City staff have to respond to an animal call in Solon. The two cities entered into the agreement in August 2010, but according to Solon City Administrator Cassandra Lippincott, Solon has not received a bill for services since its inception.
According to Iowa City’s documentation, 14 animals from Solon have been taken to the shelter so far in 2011, but that counts all animals from Solon– strays as well as those whose owners have given them up– and not just those delivered by Solon city officials.
“For example, a jurisdiction may contract with the Sheriff’s Department for enforcement services, and a deputy may bring an animal in. Citizens bring them in too,” said Hargadine. “We tabulated where each animal came from, and those areas got credited for the animal, though they may not have been charged for it.”
According to Lippincott, she believes Solon city officials have only delivered two animals to the shelter in 2011.
The three with contracts in effect are all different, said Hargadine, based on what each jurisdiction thinks works best for them.
“Everybody wants a little bit different deal,” said Hargadine. “There isn’t a boilerplate where they have all said, ‘This will work for our area.’”
In fact, the remaining nine areas don’t even have contracts. According to Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center Director Misha Goodman, though the center has been providing animal care services since at least 1970– and perhaps longer, though records don’t go further back– to the University of Iowa and the cities of Tiffin, North Liberty, Hills, Lone Tree, Oxford, Shueyville, Swisher and University Heights, none of them currently have contractual agreements.
But if they wish to continue receiving services, Hargadine said, they will have to commit to some level of financial support, and soon. It’s costing $3,500 per month just to rent the Sand Road facility, not including utilities or snow removal. The shelter’s average annual operating costs run about $670,000, with an average per animal cost of $310.
“Those costs are what it takes for one animal today,” said Hargadine. “That doesn’t help with the new building. All contracts would have to be renegotiated with a new facility, and we need to standardize those agreements.”
Since Iowa City is asking its neighbors if they want to ante up for a regional animal center, the city is also offering them a seat at the head table as well.
“We are willing to discuss oversight of the operation much like the new Joint Emergency Communications Center,” Hargadine noted in his letter, with the facility governed by a board made up of contributing members.
Of course, cities can opt out all together, Hargadine said last week.
“We just need to know, for a difference of 2,000 sq. ft., if it’s going to be regional facility or not; if we were to build one for Iowa City alone, it would probably be a little larger than the old facility, but not much. That’s the difference.
As of last week, Hargadine said his letter had only garnered two official responses; the City of Swisher has made alternate arrangements for handling stray animals. Johnson County has acknowledged it would like to continue working with the shelter, but wants to further discuss its financial commitment.
Solon has not responded yet either, other than to ask shelter director Goodman for a more detailed report of the animals originating from Solon, including the names and addresses of the people who dropped them off. Preliminary council discussions on the issue were not favorable to participation at Iowa City’s requested level, Lippincott noted.
“The city feels that the amount requested for capital funds is excessive and also questions the usage numbers that the amount was calculated from,” Lippincott said. “Iowa City has indicated that the operating expense portion would be paid through a ‘per animal’ fee, but they have not indicated what that fee would be; therefore the City cannot make any decision without the pertinent information available.”
Hargadine said the total funding needed for a larger facility might be less, based on the results of the Friends of the Animal Center Foundation’s capital campaign efforts, and the dollar amounts requested of each jurisdiction were at least up for discussion.
“What we need to know right now is if there is general interest from each jurisdiction,” Hargadine concluded. “If there is, we are willing to negotiate. If it is going to be a regional facility, we want to split the cost with the region.
“We just want to know, do you want in or not?”