Humane society officials told Larimer County commissioners on Monday that the nonprofit will pursue a citizen initiative to place the tax question on the November ballot. They must gather about 12,500 valid signatures from county voters by July 18 to get the question on the ballot.
The tax question would ask taxpayers for $13 million of the $16.5 million estimated cost of constructing a new building on 27 acres of property on County Road 30 that the humane society purchased in 2007. It would replace the humane society's 38-year-old current home.
Judy Calhoun, executive director of the Larimer Humane Society, said the aged facility falls short of current needs. She pointed to the strain that housing animals displaced by the High Park Fire placed on the site and said the current setup, where people adopting animals and people surrendering pets share the same space, is less than ideal.
The new building would provide better space for animals and greater separation of wildlife from domestic animals, according to Calhoun. It would expand capacity three-fold.
Calhoun said the current building realistically can't be viewed as an asset that would bring the nonprofit much value if it were sold.
"My recommendation is going to be bring it to the ground," Calhoun said.
If the tax passes, the humane society would hope to move into its new facility within about two years.
If the humane society tax passed at the currently proposed level, effective Jan. 1, 2014, sales tax in Fort Collins would be 7.45 percent, Loveland's would be 6.6 percent and Estes Park's would be 7.6 percent.
County commissioners have no say in whether a tax question can be posed to voters by citizen initiative. Rather, their role in the process would be to decide how involved the county would be with financing and maintenance of the building.
The county and the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland contract with the Larimer Humane Society for animal control services. When county voters in 2011 rejected extension of a sales tax to operate the county jail, it triggered a series of budget cuts that impacted all county departments and services, including its contract with the humane society. The jail tax currently stands at 2 cents on a $10 purchase.
In anticipation of the jail tax's expiration on Jan. 1, 2015, the county has developed a three-year plan to cut $10 million. It includes $50,000 in cuts to humane society support this year and each of the next two years.
County Manager Linda Hoffmann warned commissioners that voters' appetite for sales taxes might not accommodate a serving that includes the humane society's request and any future tax question that the county may pose.
"We have our own needs in Larimer County, and each time the voters approve something new, it's hard for them to keep track of exactly all that goes for," potentially limiting the success of any future tax questions the county could present, Hoffmann said.
She also noted that any sales tax initiative voters adopt brings inherent costs to the county associated with the collection and processing of taxes.
Hoffmann floated the idea that the humane society could ask for a slightly higher rate of sales tax to replace the county's waning share of support for animal control services.
Commissioner Steve Johnson said the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland would likely feel slighted by such a move, because they would continue to reach into their general fund budgets to pay for services.
He acknowledged the humane society's current home is not meeting its needs.
"Your current facility is inadequate," Johnson told humane society officials. "It's inadequate for the animals. It's inadequate for your volunteers. It's inadequate for your staff. It's inadequate for you and the needs of the county."
(Copyright © 2013 Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved)