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Josephine County will vote on levy to renovate decades-old animal shelter

A dog at the Josephine County Animal Shelter.
Josephine County Animal Shelter Facebook page
A dog being held at the Josephine County Animal Shelter.

Commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to put a levy on the ballot to fund the county's overcrowded animal shelter. The issue will head to voters in May.

The animal shelter located in Grants Pass is struggling with aging infrastructure, insufficient funding and inadequate staffing, according to Mike Weber, the county's Public Health Director. The building lacks needed space, the septic system and drains are failing, leading to flooding, and there’s no air conditioning in the dog kennels.

The shelter cannot provide adequate service under these conditions, Weber said during Wednesday's meeting.

"The animal shelter itself has reached a point where they cannot continue to provide services the same way they have in the past, in the same level that they have in the past," he said.

The animal shelter is already funded by a property tax of 11 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value; it's set to expire in 2027. The new proposal would establish a new tax of 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, lasting up to five years. That money would go toward operational costs and a facility update, including renovating the current kennels and building new ones.

The proposed operational costs equal about 27 cents and would last for five years. The proposed facility update costs equal about 19 cents and would last for three to five years, depending on how quickly the shelter could pay back a loan taken out to pay for upgrades.

The tax would cost approximately $103 more per year for the average residential home value in Josephine County, according to the explanatory statement for the voter's pamphlet. The levy could raise close to $25 million.

The money would also be used to fund animal control operations. The number of calls the department receives has gone up around 94% since 2020. Weber said the shelter has the third largest intake of animals compared to other organizations in the region. However, its revenue is the third lowest.

"It's something that we're able, through duct tape and gum, to keep us afloat. But at some point, that type of disparity is going to catch up with us," he said.

In January, commissioners approved increased fees for the animal shelter, including adoptions and intakes.

Currently, the space is overcrowded, the price of vet services has increased, and the kennels are falling apart, according to Animal Shelter Supervisor Laura Jansen.

She said the Grants Pass shelter has 32 dog kennels, but on some days houses as many as 87 dogs. Animals are bussed to other shelters or put in foster care. But even with those adjustments, Jansen said they’ve had to get creative with the space they have.

"Dogs are using half of their housing space so we can utilize two for one. [We've] got dogs rotating outside into yards. On the rainy days, it’s really difficult, but that’s what we have to do. And there’s two dogs in crates in the lobby, one dog in a crate in the breezeway, and three dogs in crates in the clinic," she said.

Jansen said the shelter has had the same number of kennels since 1978, and they're difficult to sanitize due to flooding and cracking concrete. The facility has not been renovated since then.

The shelter served about 2,600 animals in 2023, compared with 2,000 in 2020. It has eight paid county employees and about 100 unpaid volunteers. It houses animals received through owner surrenders, stray pets and animals that must be held as evidence in pending cases.

During public comment at Wednesday's meeting, some residents complained about the price of the proposed levy and about the services they would receive as a result of that cost.

Commissioner John West reassured voters that the proposed plan is not unnecessarily extravagant.

"We're not trying to build the Taj Mahal. We're just trying to build a facility that's adequate to house the problem we got," he said.

Jansen agreed, saying they worked with Shelter Planners of America to design the proposed new shelter.

"Really paring down the space to what's needed, what's adequate and what is going to be sanitary was our goal. They asked me if I wanted a dog photo shoot room, and I can let you know I said no to that one," she said.

The election that includes the levy question will be held on May 21.

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.