When Ingham County voters hit the polls on Tuesday, they will be asked to approve four millages to raise an estimated $15.5 million to run some county operations.
Three of those millages are renewals, for transportation for the elderly and disabled, 911 operations, and juvenile justice funding. One proposal is new: to build and pay for staffing for a new animal shelter.
The millage would raise $9.6 million over six years to replace the dilapidated, cramped 45-year-old shelter in Mason.
The Ingham County Animal Control Shelter is a communicable diseases’ haven, shelter Director John Dinon said. The facility has one common air system, resulting in the easy spread of kennel cough. an exceptionally contagious bacterial infection. Cats are crowded into community rooms, allowing viral and bacterial upper respiratory infections to spread. Dogs are housed across from each other, increasing the stress of an already stressful environment and reducing the animals’ immune systems.
“I am a firm believer in the connection between stress and immune function,” said Dinon. “A shelter is by its nature a stressful environment, but this situation just adds to it.”
Dinon said the millage would pay for a new 21,000-square foot facility to replace the current 8,000-square-foot one.
“It also gives us some operational money,” he said. “And that would allow us to hire enough staff to take better care of the animals and provide better services to the people who come here to the shelter.”
Right now, the shelter is funded annually with about $1 million from the county’s general fund and an additional $700,000 raised through fees for adoptions, lost animals and other enforcement operations. The proposed millage would cost $18 a year for a six years for a a home valued at $150,000.
While there is no official opposition to the plan, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce has expressed concerns about whether a new shelter is a priority.
“With crumbling roads, increasing unfunded liabilities, public safety and mental health funding challenges, the $9.8 million animal control shelter does not seem to be an essential priority in the best interest of Ingham County residents or businesses,” said Steve Japinga, the Chamber’s director of government relations. “Exploring other regional partnership opportunities such as a closer working relationship with the Capital Area Humane Society should be considered.”
Japinga noted that Michigan Department of Agriculture reports from 2011 to 2014 show an annual decline in the number of animals the shelter handled and an overall decline of 27 percent.
“Just because there has been a decline doesn’t mean there haven’t been crowding issues,” said Democratic Commissioner Todd Tennis, who backs the millage. Tennis serves as the liaison between the commission and the Animal Control Advisory Board.
As for working with the humane society, he said the Board of Commissioners is not opposed to it, but he pointed out that the private organization and the county have different missions.
Animal control operations are mandated by law to protect society from dangerous animals and must accept any animal surrendered to the shelter, he pointed out. The humane society, on the other hand, can reject or accept any animal.
Julia Willson, president and CEO of the Capital Area Humane Society, said that organization is neutral on the new shelter. “It would be silly to oppose anything that benefits animals,” she said.
Willson said there have been “no formal discussions” about partnerships between the two agencies.
“There just hasn’t been an interested expressed to us,” she said.
Three other millage proposals would renew longtime millages for various county operations.
The transportation millage will be a six-year proposal raising just over $4 million a year. It would support services for the elderly and the disabled.
Voters will also cast ballots on whether to renew a millage to support the combined 911 operations center for the county. That proposal would raise just over $5.8 million a year for four years. Those operations will fund staffing, facilities and technology to assist first responders across the county in address fire, medical and law enforcement emergencies.
And finally, to address juvenile justice related issues, voters will be asked to renew a millage first passed in 2002. That millage would raise just over $4.1 million a year for the next five years. Those funds will be used to pay for treatment and intervention programs for youth who have committed crimes or have been delinquent from school.