With a vote of approval by city commissioners, the Franklin County Humane Society could be a step closer to a new shelter for surrendered or recovered animals.
But the measure is just a small gesture in a shaky partnership.
Frankfort city commissioners agreed at their recent work session to vote July 22 on whether to lease the property to the Humane Society for the project. It would be a long-term lease of land on Carpenter Farm to build a new shelter — with an estimated $4.9 million price tag — to care for the thousands of dogs, cats and other animals that pass through the shelter’s door in a year.
While Sam Marcus, president of FCHS, said the decision to hold a vote on the leasing of the land is a positive sign, he added that the fact that neither the county nor the city has committed to funding the project is worrisome.
“What’s hard still is we don’t have any commitment from the county and no commitment from the city other than to consider the land,” Marcus said. “…The fear is we go through this process, they back out and we’re back at square one.”
City Manager Keith Parker called for a resolution to be added to the city’s agenda earlier this week that would state the city’s willingness to lease a site on Carpenter Farm to be the new location of a new animal shelter. He said that while negotiations are still taking place, the end goal is a new shelter.
“I think we need to formalize that the city is intending to donate or make (the land) available for construction of the new Humane Society,” Parker told the commission. “... And I think it helps the Humane Society fundraising when they know they have a site to dedicate to put up by the city.”
But that’s not exactly the case. Marcus said the shelter would be better able to raise construction funds with some form of a financial commitment from the two government agencies.
“We can’t have a capital campaign until we know what we have to raise,” Marcus said. “To us, we’re still in limbo.”
About a month ago, Marcus called on officials to act with urgency as the Humane Society began sharing videos and photos on its Facebook page of flooding around the current shelter. The facility is about 50 years old and in a flood plain. The Humane Society has incurred more than $25,000 in the past fiscal year on repairs when the money could have gone toward care of abandoned or recovered animals of Franklin County, Marcus said.
He said that because of the expense to the Humane Society and the animals it cares for, the situation is in need of addressing.
“This all hinges on their participation to make it work,” Marcus said. “If there’s not a financial partnership between the city, county and Humane Society, the project will not work. We’ll have to go to another plan.”
The current plan for a new shelter to serve the county and city is estimated at $4.925 million for the full build-out. FCHS has committed to raising a minimum of $2.5 million and asked for $1.1 million from the city and $1.3 million from the county.
Marcus said the shelter houses 125 to 225 animals at any given time and still accepts between 1,800 and 2,000 new animals each year — achievable with its almost 90% turnover rate. He said one option for the shelter would be for the Humane Society to go private and fund the facility itself, which would cut its capacity potential by about half, Marcus said.
“We can’t build a shelter big enough to accommodate the city and county’s demand,” he said. “We would have to be selective. And because of the city and county’s ordinances, they would still have to have their own facility.”
Marcus added that there is a possibility the Humane Society could partner with one entity and proceed, but he would prefer to see a partnership.
At least one commissioner agreed there is a huge need for a new shelter.
Commissioner Eric Whisman said he was skeptical at first of the need but has since changed his opinion after reviewing the project compared to what other communities have built.
“I think we need to dedicate ourselves as a body to making this project happen,” he said. “I think at minimum maybe the city and county can go in together and bond this project with a promise of payment from the board of the animal shelter.”
Parker said that he and several other leaders of the county and city met with Humane Society officials to discuss the plans and there are more meetings planned. Where those will end up is unclear, but Parker gave a promise to the commission that within the next few months it could be faced with a decision on funding.
“We’re working toward still trying to cut costs,” he told the commission. “And we’re working towards a time frame of a few months to have something in front of you all to really consider. We’re moving toward that goal. We all agreed when we left today we need a new animal shelter. And we’re actively working towards that.”