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County eyes alternatives for Home at Last

In response to Home At Last’s repeated request for full ownership of the property at 200 River Road, Wasco County Commissioners resolved to investigate alternative measures, including the unexplored option of turning over a similar parcel of land elsewhere within city limits.

Only three options were on the table at the Aug. 20 meeting: maintain the current lease agreement with the county, deed the property to Home at Last with a reversionary clause or explore a long-term lease agreement and service contract with the shelter.

“This shelter is 38 years old and when it was built, it was built with animal control in mind and not necessarily animal preservation,” Bob Francis, Home at Last Board treasurer, said. “And as we all know, ‘animal control’ basically means kill shelter. When it transferred over to Home at Last, that process stopped except under certain circumstances.”

Carol Roderick of The Dalles said she doesn’t want to see the shelter revert back to the way it was before Home at Last took over in 2004.

“Have you ever had a family dog that got out in the evening, but who had then been picked up and euthanized by 8 o’clock the next morning? When county ran the shelter, it happened to us. It was a nightmare; all it was is a kill shelter. I would never want to see it go back to that. There’s a lot of people with family pets that support HAL 100 percent and they expect the care they’ve received in the past to continue.”

Vice president of the board John Hutchinson said retaining the current lease agreement is not a good option for Home at Last since it does not provide the necessary security to ensure future success, adding that the board now considers the building obsolete to the point of hindering services.

“With the amount of staff we have and the number of services we provide, it’s still too cramped of a facility and actually the infrastructure of the facility is deteriorating pretty quickly,” Francis agreed.

Home at Last’s first choice is to be granted full ownership of the property to make it “more competitive to receive grant funding and allow for a community campaign for major funding to renovate the facilities,” according to a letter written by Board President Diana Bailey.

However, Bailey said the board is willing to negotiate a long-term lease with the county for a minimum of 25 years, which also “may be sufficient to acquire funding.”

Under the current three-year lease, however, Francis said it is difficult to secure funding for major building repairs or other improvements.

“The final option we propose is for the county to give us a piece of property of equal size within the urban growth boundary of the city of The Dalles where we would have five years to go through a capital campaign to build a new shelter,” Francis said.

In her letter to commissioners, Bailey said she considered this a “true win-win” scenario in that the county would have the ability to market the “potentially valuable” property while providing Home at Last the means to relocate and improve their facilities.

Since Home at Last took over shelter operations, the county has leased both the facility and the land free of charge in exchange for lodging animals that are in the legal custody of Wasco County and the City of The Dalles.

“Over a period of time, we were paying a considerable amount of money to Home at Last, but that stopped about two years ago,” said Tyler Stone, county administrative officer, referring to the annual $58,000 the county previously contributed to the shelter. “That was around the time when HAL was going through some major financial challenges and had quite a mix-up with the board. At that time, we began looking for other agencies to run the shelter, but fortunately, HAL pulled through.”

Francis said despite past difficulties, Home at Last was here to stay.

“We may not have an executive director right now, but we have our board president, Diana Bailey, and three very good, very strong department heads,” he said. “I would agree that back in 2010, it might have looked bad for HAL, but now with the board members and staff we have, it is a very stable and community-minded organization.”

Wasco County Commissioners agreed to assemble a taskforce to investigate further options in response to Home at Last’s proposed solutions.

“I think this is a great service and one that’s absolutely necessary to the county,” Commissioner Scott Hege said. “We just need to figure out a way to make it successful and help it succeed in providing that service. We don’t want to operate a shelter. We appreciate what you do and how you do it and we want that to continue.”

County staff recommended the board consider negotiating a long-term lease agreement with Home at Last that would enable them to secure more funding, but which would also maintain a shorter term management agreement that would allow the county to retain some control over the services provided at the shelter.

“We don’t want to lose the ability to have input on the animal shelter’s operations,” Stone said. “Because it’s a building we’re currently using for the public to collect and hold animals along with the city, who has an active animal control program, both the city and county really need to continue having a say in how the shelter’s operating.”

Were Home at Last to fall on hard times, retaining a lease agreement would allow the county to step in and protect the public asset.

Commissioner Rod Runyon said the option of locating an alternative piece of land for future shelter operations was one worthy of exploration.

“It raises a whole new set of questions that might solve a whole bunch of problems,” he said. “We’ll review the properties the county owns that are located within a close proximity to the City of The Dalles and see if that’s something we can look at.”

Commissioner Steve Kramer will act as the board’s representative in the following investigations.

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