Homeless dogs at the Ouachita Parish Animal Shelter

After nearly three years, a local non-profit dedicated to improving conditions for homeless animals has raised some $1.1 million to build a new facility for the Ouachita Parish Animal Shelter.

SOS Pets of Ouachita raised $1,144,519 through contributions and funds pledged by other groups and governmental entities like the city of West Monroe and the Ouachita Parish Police Jury, according to Joan Hampton, the non-profit’s president. For example, the Police Jury previously pledged $70,000 to the construction effort.

SOS Pets began in February 2017 with a $1 deposit.

“The original plan estimated that it would take at least 5 years to get to this level of funding,” Hampton said. “Instead, we’ve reached it in less than three years. The SOS Pets team is beyond grateful for the phenomenal private support.”

Meanwhile, members of the Ouachita Parish Police Jury say discussions are ongoing about how the parish would pay for the costs of operating a new animal shelter. The funds raised by SOS Pets might cover the cost of construction, but the costs of operating a larger facility with heating and cooling is unknown, according to parish officials.

According to SOS Pets’ plans, the non-profit would buy the land and pay for the construction of a new facility before entering into a cooperative endeavor agreement with the Police Jury, which would operate the shelter. The larger facility would include an intake center, space for animal control, a heated kennel building with 50 kennels and an adoption center, according to SOS Pets’ plans.

“Building it is one thing, but then we would have to have money to run it once it gets going,” said Police Jury Vice President Jack Clampit, speaking of SOS Pets. “I’ve asked them for a proposed cost of operation. So far, I haven’t seen it. That’s a concern.”

“That’s what I want to see. What are the electrical costs? How many people would be needed to run it?” he added.

In past meetings, police jurors have discussed the possibility of asking voters to consider a new tax or increasing the current property tax supporting the animal shelter’s operations.

The animal shelter currently benefits from a .25-mill property tax, which raises more than $250,000 a year.

Police Jury President Shane Smiley said the animal shelter’s current millage is levied at a lower rate than it used to be.

“In order for us to improve the animal shelter, or the cost to operate it, there could potentially be an increased millage brought before the people of the parish to consider,” Smiley said. “The increase in the millage would be minimal.”

“If we double that millage, it would become a .5 mill tax,” he added.

The increase in costs to operate an animal shelter was unavoidable if the facility’s staff were to focus on adoption of animals instead of euthanizing them, according to Smiley.

“The millage was originally intended for animal control, but now it’s an animal shelter,” Smiley said. “Because of the focus on the adoption of pets instead of euthanizing them, there are higher costs. The costs of operating an animal shelter are greater now than they were 30 years ago.”

Smiley said he had made the chambers of commerce in Monroe and West Monroe aware that a property tax proposal would likely be floated in 2020 or 2021.

When asked about the Police Jury’s discussions about asking voters to consider a property tax for a new facility, Clampit’s answer was

“So far, there’s been no movement to increase property taxes,” Clampit said. “It’s been discussed. But that’s it.”

Police Juror Scotty Robinson said he would oppose calling for a new tax.

“I’m adamantly against raising property taxes,” Robinson said.

Robinson, who frequently champions the work of the animal shelter, suggested an alternative: rolling back another millage by a certain amount while raising the animal shelter’s millage, so that there would be no increase in property taxes.

“The only way I would consider using a tax would be if there was a half-mil that came from somewhere else where it was not being used,” Robinson said.

According to Hampton and the Police Jury, the original plan was to build a new facility at the animal shelter’s current location off Well Road in West Monroe.

“However, we have an offer of donated property not far from the existing shelter, so we’ve adjusted our plans to build at the all-new location,” Hampton said.

According to Hampton, a group had expressed interest in building the new facility as a community improvement project.

“Regarding some of the plans for the overall facility itself: It will be more of an ‘experience’ rather than ‘just a shelter,’ ” Hampton said. “Visitors will be routed to the new Adoption Building via a fun doghouse-shaped entry, where they will be immediately greeted by featured animals available for adoption, as well as puppies, cats and kittens. Two “catios” with outside access directly from the Adoption Building are planned for the cats’ enjoyment. The Adoption Building will also include a quiet area for nursing moms.”

Hampton also said the new facility would serve as a regional center, available to assist surrounding parishes that do not have enough space for homeless animals.

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