Jefferson County lacks an animal shelter and a nonprofit group, the Animal Shelter and Care Committee, or AS&CC, wants to address that need by asking residents to vote June 2 on a permanent mill levy of nine mills.
If approved, the $265,365 raised by the tax would go toward funding a shelter, and cover the annual operating expenses. It would also support ASCC low cost spay and neuter programs, as well as educational outreach on the importance of spaying and neutering, vaccinations and pet identification, such as microchipping, according to the Commission’s resolution.
If passed, the nine mill levy would add an additional $6.08 a year in taxes on residence valued at $50,000; another $12.15 a year for a residence valued at $100,000; and $24.30 a year for a residence valued at $200,000, according to the resolution.
The Jefferson County Commission agreed that a shelter is needed and approved a resolution in March to put it on the June ballot, according to the Commission’s resolution.
The AS&CC has run a spay and neuter program in Jefferson County for the past 12 years, and in recent years has started a foster care program to deal with the growing amount of lost and stray dogs in the county, said AS&CC Treasurer Cheryl Haasakker.
In 2019, the AS&CC helped roughly 373 Jefferson County animals, primarily dogs and cats, through its spay and neuter clinics, its vaccination clinics and its foster care program, said Haasakker.
At the same time, other Montana county shelters end up taking in animals from Jefferson County, said Haasakker.
For example, the Lewis and Clark Humane Society in Helena takes in 125-154 animals a year from Jefferson County, and in turn, charges the county $125 for each one, said Haasakker.
“Due to the overwhelming added burden and cost factors of caring for the animals from Jefferson County, most shelters no longer take animals from Jefferson County. Many shelters rely on a strong foster care system to help ease the overcrowded shelter animals,” she said.
Haasakker said three shelters do take Jefferson County animals, but declined to name them.
The mill levy will be used to help fund the annual expenses for the shelter and its services, with the other revenue coming from donations, fundraisers, service fees and volunteer hours, said Haasakker, adding that the AS&CC foster program is limited and can only handle so many animals. The AS&CC foster care program has five homes available, she said.
The proposed shelter will be operated by six full-time employees and volunteers and overseen by a 10-person board of directors, said Haasakker.
The proposed shelter building will be centrally located in the county on a 2.6 acre parcel of land located south of the City of Boulder’s waste treatment plant and east of the Montana Development Center campus on Muskrat Lane, said Haasakker.
The estimated cost to build the facility is $693,000 and will accommodate 30 indoor/outdoor covered dog runs, two isolation indoor/outdoor covered dog kennel runs, a 42 cat cattery, a community cat lounge and a cat isolation room and additional room to continue its ongoing programs, along with pet boarding, micro-chipping, personalized collar tags and and obedience/training program for pet owners and prospective pet owners, said Haasakker.
The AS&CC is in the beginning phases of its fundraising campaign for the building, but the COVID-19 crisis has put that on hold, said Haasakker.
“We have shared our progress and shelter funding concerns with the County Commission during this time and received their constant support and encouragement,” said Haasakker.
Haasakker said there has been some resistance in the Whitehall area for the project — specifically residents want the facility at their end of the county, while other county residents either don’t think it’s necessary, or do want an animal shelter, but not the added tax burden.
An AS&CC survey found that 85 percent of Jefferson County residents support the project, she said.
Jefferson County Commissioners Chairman Leonard Wortman said that if the levy is passed, the county would use a portion of the funds to pay the debt service on money borrowed to build the facility, as well as pay a contracted entity, likely a nonprofit, to run the shelter.
The difference between the levy proceeds, and the remainder of the cost to build the shelter, will be provided by the AS&CC’s fundraising efforts, he said.
The county would own the building and maintenance would also be addressed through the mill levy revenue, said Wortman.
Due to state requirements, a request for proposals will have to be issued for the contracted entity, so the AS&CC is not guaranteed the contract to run the shelter, said Wortman, adding that it’s a competitive process.