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Residents weigh in on future of animal services in Collin County
Kelley Chambers / Staff Photo - The Collin County Animal Shelter serves 14 cities and the unincorporated areas of Collin County. With demand for more animal services growing as the county continues to grow, some advocates would like to see Frisco and McKinney build their own shelters.
Residents across Collin County met at Haggard Library in Plano on Monday to begin what County Judge Keith Self called a conversation about the future of animal control services in the county.
Since 2006, the Collin County Animal Shelter has operated using a handful of county employees and animal rescue groups on a budget pooled together by county and city funding. But with Collin County's human population on the rise, the question has been raised whether burgeoning cities - particularly Frisco and McKinney - should build their own facilities.
In 2012, McKinney and Frisco paid 70 percent of the $844,386 needed to run the shelter. The two municipalities also hold that same combined percentage with regards to usage. During Monday night's presentation, County Administrator Bill Bilyeu said the county projected these cities would pay more than $2.4 million over the next three years under the current agreement with the county, which expires in 2016.
Without these cities' payments, Collin County and the remaining cities would be left to make up the difference, a change that would increase the per capita cost from $1.58 to $5.27, Bilyeu said.
Commissioners compared Williamson County's model with its own, as Williamson and Collin counties are the only two counties in Texas that collaborate with their cities to run a common county shelter. While the two are similar in geographic size, average annual intake and population served, they differ in that Williamson County holds agreements with four cities, while Collin County collaborates with 14. Williamson County also employees 19 full-time employees at its shelter, while eight full-time and three part-time employees run the Collin County facility.
Williamson County also boasts a larger operating budget of $1.1 million compared to Collin County's $500,000. A portion of the Collin County cities' payments are also used to pay off debt, a fact Self said should not be forgotten.
"We're not kicking anybody out - we can't. We need them to help pay off the building," Self said. "All we're doing ... is starting a conversation with citizens and cities to see what the future is going to look like."
Several residents voiced their opinions at Monday's meeting on whether the agreements with McKinney and Frisco should be renewed in three years, including Prosper veterinarian Cassie Meier, who was in favor of Frisco and McKinney building their own facilities. That would take the strain off volunteers at the shelter and provide more room for animals as the county continues to grow, she said.
The shelter could also benefit from having a full-time veterinarian on staff, she added.
"For such a large group without access to veterinary services, to me that's a problem," Meier said. "There is certainly a fine line we all walk when we go in there. We speak candidly, we understand we are guests and that we are there solely to help those pets. We don't want to enter into a political circumstance ... we want to maintain a positive relationship."
Frisco resident Sheryl Tenhall, who has been rescuing dogs in Collin County since 2007, is a former volunteer at the Collin County Animal Shelter, said the ratio of staff members to volunteers has led to burnout in the latter group.
Tenhall said she and other volunteers had been asking for more funding for the shelter for some time and that an expansion, a few more employees and a vet on staff would improve its ability to serve the rest of the county.
However, Tenhall said putting this task in the hands of the cities might produce more favorable results.
"Collin County has made it very clear that they are not going to expand," she said.
"We are hoping that the bigger cities will take it upon themselves to build their own facilities, where citizens will have a say that will be responded to and lessen the burden on the county shelter. McKinney and Frisco need to step up and start handling it."
While a petition on change.org calling on McKinney city leaders to provide a city animal shelter and adoption program has gained more than 300 supporters, representatives from the cities of McKinney and Frisco have expressed their collective desire to renew the agreement as is.
Frisco Mayor Maher Maso was not at Monday's meeting but said he is looking forward to continuing communication with the county and Frisco residents.
"Frankly, the shelter was built using taxpayer funds from both the cities and Collin County," he said. "The solution needs to be worked on together if one of the partners is thinking on making a change, so we're open to having that dialogue."
Frisco resident Ann Harris said she was in favor of the cities building their own shelters or perhaps the two combining forces to build one both communities could use.
"I'm a little upset we don't have control over what we're paying for," she said. "As taxpayers, we want to know where our money's going. The county's growing by leaps and bounds and it's only going to get bigger."
Frisco veterinarian Jennifer Wilcox agreed with Harris, stating she did not feel the county shelter, given its location off Community Avenue near the detention center in McKinney, is not serving the needs of taxpayers or its animals.
"I think Frisco and McKinney are going to have to step up and take responsibility for their own animal control," Wilcox said. "We have to put the needs of animals first. I think everybody has a big stake in this. It's a community issue."
Commissioner Cheryl Williams said she did not think the court and residents were looking far enough into the future to properly assess how the need for more services, and reminded them that as the county grows, the animal population will grow, as well. Williams also noted that shelter volunteers are "terribly overworked" as is.
"It might have worked fine for now, but things will have to change as population grows," she said.
The extra costs will have to come from somewhere, Williams said. Given the current ratio, McKinney and Frisco's usage is projected to outgrow the county's unincorporated areas. Given that, Williams said, it wouldn't make sense for the county to continue taking on the burden for them in terms of staffing and upkeep.
"In the future we will have three choices - expand the facility we currently have, expand by having additional shelters in different parts of county, or kill more animals," she said.
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