Marion County Humane Society asks voters for help bearing cost of new building

Apr. 3—FAIRMONT — Marcie Leone recalls a time she walked into the old Marion County Humane Society building in search of its director, Jonna Spatafore. Leone is a longtime volunteer at the Society.

"We go back in the room and the whole ceiling had caved in, just water everywhere," Leone said. "It was inevitable, we had to have a new building. When the cement crumbles and the roof starts caving in, it's just hard to take care of animals in that situation."

She describes their new building as a godsend, the former structure was demolished in 2022 to make way for constructing the new shelter. However, construction costs spiked between 2021 and 2022. Between ground breaking and completion, the interest rate increased five percentage points from 4.25% to 9.25%. Now, the Humane Society has to choose between taking care of more animals, or making payments on its loan.

Therefore, the Marion County Humane Society will ask voters in the May Primary Election to approve a levy which will help the organization fund its operations, clearing the way to apply fundraising and donations to the outstanding principal left on the loan. The levy would be between $7 and $10 for most homeowners, with a home valued at $100,000 contributing $7 to the shelter as part of its annual property taxes.

"It's a 20-year loan," Paul Thobois, a Humane Society board member, said. "If we carry it to maturity, we'll end up paying $1.3 million in interest. We don't want to do that. With levy funding, we'll be able to apply our fundraising and donations and service that loan within four years."

Total construction costs for the new facility were $2 million, a spike from the original projection of $1.6 million. The organization can make its payments on time without any issue with its current income. However, Spatafore, shelter director, pointed out that the shelter provides critical services for animals throughout the county at a loss.

For example, a puppy will need vaccines, spaying or neutering, deworming, flea and heartworm preventative. By the time it's six months old, it would cost roughly $785 to have all the work done by a vet. However, the dog's adoption fee is only $175. A cat's health care fees come out to about $485, but the Society only charges $75 in adoption fees.

Add in staffing costs and consumables such as food and cleaning supplies, and the overhead left to bring in and take care of more animals is reduced.

"If the levy does not pass, we cannot send out animals to be adopted," Spatafore said. "And, not do everything we do. That's what we're here for. It's what we've decided to do and we're going to stick with it. All the testing, medicines, vaccines and everything, we will not change that. But we'll do it for less animals, we're not going to be able to maintain that level of care for a full capacity shelter."

Without these funds, Spatafore argued more animals would be left abandoned and left to procreate, exacerbating the need for animal care in the county. The county already has a large feral cat problem. The shelter began a trap, neuter, return program for the ferals which roam the streets, woods and derelict buildings of Marion County.

"We unfortunately cannot take feral cats because they need to be adoptable," Spatafore said. "We're not gonna put them in a cage for the rest of their lives, that's cruel. We have started doing more with trap, neuter, release to stop the cycle."

Spatafore also said the Humane Society is the only organization that takes in cats in the county. The ciunty-funded outsourced Animal Control organization does not take in cats.

Spatafore also argued that the people who worked at the shelter deserved to make a living wage. She also hopes to hire more staff. Spatafore said the organization is a great place to make a second income, and the people who work there bring a lot of passion to the job, taking care of the animals as if they were their own.

She often receives texts at night from staff who notice whenever something is wrong with an animal. For all the hard work they do, Spatafore wants to be able to compensate the staff better. Receiving assistance through the levy to help pay off the organization's debt would go a long way toward making that happen.

In other words, helping shoulder the Marion County Humane Society would allow the organization to retire its debt burden sooner and focus on expanding on what it does best, taking care of animals. Having the building paid off would help the organization tremendously, Leone said.

"If the levy does not pass, it will not be good because we spend a lot of money on supplies," Leone said. "The animals usually leave up to date on the other vaccines and microchips and are mostly spayed or neutered. I don't know if financially we will be able to afford that and also pay for this building without the levy."

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