Good News Lightens Humane Society Problems

Payson council extends $7,400 monthly contract with shelter as volunteers repair roof

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Sometimes, bad luck brings good things.

So the Humane Society of Central Arizona might have lost a good chunk of its roof in the recent fierce winter storm, but the sun came out quickly in the form of an extended contract with Payson and strong community support.

Not only did the storm damage prompt “an outpouring of community support,” but last week the Payson Town Council extended its often-debated agreement to pay the shelter $7,400 monthly on through the end of the fiscal year in June.

“The repairs are being made to get us back to 100 percent, and all our discussions with the Payson Council have been very amicable,” said John Wakelin, vice chairman of the Humane Society board.

On the storm front, local contractor Mike Amon immediately dispatched crews to start repairs on the roof two weeks ago after a storm packing 70 mile per hour winds walloped Rim Country and peeled off a portion of the roof on the aging animal shelter.

“At this point in time, I don’t know what the total costs will be for for the repairs. But we’ve had a wonderful, heartfelt response from the community. Frankly, it’s been overwhelming to see the response,” said Wakelin.

The group is still working hard to raise money for a new shelter, with inside kennels to improve conditions and reduce noise from the facility, which sits just off Main Street.

The Humane Society took a calculated risk by starting construction on the new shelter without having raised enough money to finish it. Construction crews have finished “phase one,” which involved putting in roads, driveways and foundations. So far the group has raised $400,000 of the $1 million it needs to start phase two, which would put up all of the exterior walls.

“We’re a little less than halfway there,” said Wakelin.

The group applied for a federal stimulus grant, which would have covered the bulk of the construction costs. The project apparently didn’t make it through the first round of funding, but backers hope more stimulus money might eventually get fed into the system. The grant would come through the Department of Homeland Security, in a program established to care for animals in an emergency provoked by the disaster in New Orleans.

Fortunately, the shelter can at least count on its $7,400 monthly payment from Payson through the end of the fiscal year.

Six months ago, Payson Police Chief Don Engler had pushed for a cut in the contract with the shelter for taking care of stray dogs and cats from $88,000 to about $35,000. Engler based his recommendation on the cost of caring for dogs and cats brought to the shelter by the town’s animal control officer — which amounts to about 350 animals annually.

However, the Humane Society protested that the town was legally responsible for the 1,000 animals turned in by residents or captured in the town limits — even if the animal control officer didn’t nab them.

The Humane Society presented the results of a “time and motion” study, which tried to detail the costs of handling a stray dog or cat. The study said the Humane Society spends $180 on each new animal in the first 72 hours, for which the town bears legal responsibility. The Payson shelter often keeps animals longer, since it euthanizes only animals considered unadoptable due to temperament, illness or disabilities. The study would suggest the town could actually owe the shelter $180,000 annually for processing the 1,000 animals brought in from within the town limits.

The town had agreed to extend the existing contract for six months while studying the Humane Society’s numbers. Last week, the council approved another six-month extension. The action was placed on the consent calendar, which means the council didn’t publicly discuss the agreement.

Wakelin said he didn’t know whether the council’s action means the town has accepted responsibility for all 1,000 animals or even accepted the validity of the Humane Society’s $180-per-animal cost estimate.

“I honestly don’t know what they have or have not accepted. All I know is they’ve agreed to continue the contract for the remainder of the fiscal year. So far as I know, we still do not have a signed contract. The ‘time and motion’ study confirms that the expenses incurred by the Humane Society exceeded the costs that we’re being paid.”

However, he said he was glad the council had extended the contract and assumed the negotiations would continue.

“It’s open for discussion, definitely — but not in a combative way. It is what it is. We’re just happy for now that the contract was extended,” said Wakelin.

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