The Pioneer Humane Society is looking to expand its paw print.
Board members from the nonprofit went before the Pendleton City Council as a part of a series of meetings to gain access to the November ballot for the Umatilla County Animal Control District, a new taxing district that would take in 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to support operations at the Pendleton Animal Welfare Shelter.
Humane society officials said the resulting $300,000 might be the only way they can keep the doors open.
Opened as a no-kill shelter in 2012, PAWS has sheltered 2,200 dogs and 2,800 cats in the past five years, according to the society’s presentation to the council.
PAWS also runs a spay and neuter program that has fixed 773 animals, a figure that doesn’t include sheltered dogs and cats.
In 2017, the humane society funded these services with $224,400, which was mainly derived from donations and user fees.
Board members say its current funding level is unsustainable, and under the proposed taxing district, the society expects to expand its budget to $511,500.
Besides stabilizing or bolstering existing services, the society wants to use additional funding to build its own pound.
Pendleton maintains its own pound at the city’s public works shop at 1501 S.E. Byers Ave., but has an agreement with PAWS to house the animals longterm.
At PAWS current shelter facility at 517 S.E. Third St., the society would use the larger budget to repair roof leaks, provide air conditioning to the kitten room, and build indoor washrooms for the animals.
In addition to being underfunded, the humane society is arguing that it’s understaffed.
PAWS has five part-time staff members, and board member Cindy Spiess said in an interview after the meeting that she and her colleagues often dedicate 30 to 40 hours per week to volunteering at the shelter.
At risk of burning out the volunteer pool, the society wants to create three to four positions, including an executive director, a spay and neuter coordinator, and one or two animal caregivers.
If they can receive ballot resolutions from the cities of Pendleton and Umatilla, the animal control district question will be on the ballot in every city and incorporated area in Umatilla County, with the exception of Hermiston and Milton-Freewater.
In an interview following the meeting, board president Jackie Carey said she met with the city managers from both cities and was told that each community already had shelter services, either through the Eastern Oregon Humane Society in Hermiston or the Blue Mountain Humane Society in Walla Walla.
The society’s internal data shows that more than half of the animals sheltered at PAWS came from Pendleton in 2017, and the society will have to convince voters outside the Pendleton area that it would benefit them as well.
Spiess said the humane society will begin formulating a campaign plan later this month.
The last countywide tax proposal — the Umatilla County 4-H Extension and Agricultural Research District — was defeated by a wide margin.
The animal control district isn’t officially designated for the ballot yet, but it’s already drawn a familiar opponent.
At the council meeting, Pendleton resident Rex Morehouse voiced his displeasure with the tax.
“I think this a city problem and I don’t think we should turn it over to another agency or form a new district,” he said.
If voters reject the tax proposal, Carey said the society will have to consider its options, ranging from reducing services to closing the shelter entirely.
“You can only operate for so long if you spend more than you bring in,” she said.
For its part, the council seemed inclined to send the question to the ballot.
“I think that the voters have a right to choose their destiny and their future,” said Councilor Paul Chalmers, who is also the county’s director of taxation and assessment.
City Manager Robb Corbett said staff would draft a formal resolution for the council’s consideration at its next meeting.
If the measure does make the ballot, it will go to a vote on Nov. 6.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.