City approves funding to help Community Shelter, Humane Society request doesn’t win funding yet

Guests and staff at the Lawrence Community Shelter are resting a little easier this week after the city and Douglas County came through with emergency funds to keep the local homeless shelter afloat through the end of this year.

But while the shelter for homeless people was able to get emergency funding from both the city and county this week, the same could not be said for the local shelter for stray and homeless animals.

Lawrence city commissioners agreed Tuesday to provide up to $50,000 in emergency aid for the homeless shelter, provided the shelter’s board can raise an equal amount from private donors. Commissioners also agreed to pay a little more than $1,100 for the shelter’s board to send out mail solicitations to raise that private money.

The city’s action Tuesday followed similar action last week when Douglas County commissioners agreed to provide $50,000 in emergency funding on the condition that the city provided matching funds.

John Tacha, vice president of the shelter’s board, had told city and county officials last week that the facility was suffering from a drastic revenue shortfall, one he conceded was largely a result of the board’s lackluster fundraising in recent years. The shelter had originally asked for $100,000 each from the city and county.

Both local governments are currently in the process of writing their budgets for the upcoming year, and neither felt it was in a position to provide that much emergency aid on such short notice.

As for the Lawrence Humane Society, Mayor Jeremy Farmer, while sympathetic to the needs of the animal shelter that is housed in a 20-year-old facility at 805 E. 19th St., said the homeless shelter ranked higher on the priority list because, “it houses people, not puppies.” The Humane Society was requesting $2.5 million from the city over two years as part of a capital campaign to fund a renovation of its facility.

Commissioner Matthew Herbert also said the homeless shelter was a higher priority because it was on the verge of having to lay off staff and reduce services immediately.

But commissioners did not completely close the door on the possibility of helping the Lawrence Humane Society with its proposed $5 million renovation project. Commissioners want to explore a variety of funding options, possibly including the issuance of bonds.

Kate Meghji, executive director of the Humane Society, pointed out that one of the services it provides — receiving and housing stray animals — is one that the city would otherwise have to do itself, most likely at a much higher cost.

She said the animal shelter is operating in a 20-year-old facility, and that the Humane Society is having to spend an inordinate amount of money on maintenance and repairs, money that could be used to enhance its services.

Over the last five years, she said, the shelter has increased the number of “live releases” of animals through adoptions, and reduced the number it is forced to euthanize. But, she added, “There’s a lot more we can do with a facility that works for us.”

In other business, commissioners:

• Gave tentative approval for a conditional use permit to allow Verizon Wireless to install a 120-foot cellphone tower at 2001 Moodie Road, provided it move the site of the tower at least 130 feet from a building on adjoining property that houses Free State Brewing Company’s bottling plant.

• Approved the sale of $9.37 million in municipal water and sewage system bonds to refinance earlier bonds at a lower interest rate.

• Approved a new three-year labor agreement with the Lawrence Police Officers Association, and a four-year labor agreement with the Lawrence Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 1596.