Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Dec. 3, 2001

Animal shelter funding debated by Wright County Board

By John Holler

Back in the mid-1980s, the Wright County Humane Society was on the verge of shutting its doors. Unable to keep up with rental payments, the Wright County Board stepped in and gave the Humane Society a donation of $450 a month to cover monthy rent.

Sixteen years later, that stipend has gone up to $500 a month, but the Humane Society is no longer living check to check. It owns its current shelter free and clear and the $500 monthly donation from the county has gone from a needed rental expense to a part of the non-profit's budgeting process.

That was thrown into disarray in November when, after a renewal memo was sent to the county, the board opted to split its $6,000 annual payment to the Humane Society 50-50 between it and Crossroads Animal Shelter.

The reason? The only animal control issue the county is responsible for is handling dangerous dogs, something the Humane Society refused to do until recently. The board essentially gave both organizations a "take it or leave it" offer of $3,000 and it's possible the Humane Society may consider leaving it.

At the Nov. 27 meeting of the county board, Julie Vergin of the humane society came before the board to ask for a re-vote on the matter, saying that splitting the funding will cause some programs to be sacrificed and, in the long run, hurt all Wright County residents.

"For 16 years, we have provided 24-hour, seven-day-a-week coverage to the county," Vergin said. "Sheriff Miller has said there is absolutely no problem with our performance. Splitting funding at this time would be confusing and result in us having to eliminate some services."

The matter brought back the same debate that happened the first time the matter was brought up. Board Chair Ken Jude, who opposed splitting the funding, said that there were several issues that needed to be discussed.

Vergin brought up several of these, including programs such as spaying and neutering pets, providing food for poor families with dog's and having licensed people to conduct animal cruelty studies. To her knowledge, all Crossroads does is shelter animals, which she theorized provides much less of a service to the county.

One thing that surprised at least one commissioner was a signed contract between former Sheriff Don Hozempa and the Humane Society. Commissioner Pat Sawatzke had previously stated the county didn't have a contract with the humane society because only the county board can sign contracts. While the document did have Hozempa's signature, it also expressly said that no dangerous dogs would be accepted - the only animals the county is responsible for other than animals taken away on cruelty charges.

"The question in my mind all along was what is the county's responsibility?" asked Commissioner Jack Russek. "It's simply handling dangerous dogs. The rest is not the responsiblity of the county. We have two places that will take dangerous dogs. That's why I voted to split the money and I'm sticking by that."

When informed that Crossroads was willing to accept the county's $3,000 offer, Vergin said the humane society may be uncomfortable accepting having its funding halved. The board laid the item over until the county receives a written response from the humane society. At that time, the matter will likely be referred to committee.

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