St. Tammany Parish officials are deciding when to seek renewal of a property tax that funds animal control activities in the parish, but at the same time, the administration is looking at other options in case voters reject the .82-mill tax.
Parish officials have asked the St. Tammany Humane Society if it would consider running the parish animal shelter, located on La. 36, in the event that the parish does not have the money to do so, Scott Bernier, CEO of the Humane Society, confirmed Wednesday.
He said his impression was that the request was made as a contingency measure.
Bernier stressed that no agreement has been made but said the Humane Society is doing "due diligence" on the possible transfer.
The question of whether the parish shelter will become a no-kill facility is a separate matter, according to Bernier and parish officials.
Ronnie Simpson, spokesman for Parish President Pat Brister, said the parish has been working for nearly a year to bring animal services in St. Tammany as close as possible to no-kill.
The Humane Society and several other animal welfare organizations have formed a group to explore shifting to a no-kill shelter, Bernier said, and they have been talking to parish officials for about six months.
A petition that has been circulating on social media suggests that the parish is not going to seek renewal of the tax and raises concerns that the shelter will be closed or taken over by another organization.
"This should be our choice! Not the Parish! It's our right to vote!" the petition says.
But Simpson said the parish will seek renewal of the tax, which expires at the end of 2018, although it's not certain when. Brister is meeting this week with Parish Council members to discuss the timing of the election, he said.
The tax generates nearly $1.7 million a year; the proceeds for 2018 won't come in until 2019. The shelter has total revenue of $1.95 million a year and has budgeted expenditures of nearly $1.9 million.
Last year, the parish shelter had 997 adoptions and reunited 363 owners with lost pets. Another 278 animals were transferred to partner organizations for adoption. But 1,979 animals were euthanized.
"We have been working for almost a year to move our animal services operations as close as possible to a 'no-kill' shelter as we can," Simpson said in an email. "We also are looking at the way we're operating the shelter and looking for efficiencies to improve the way we do business. ... Part of that introspective look is to follow Parish President Pat Brister's lead in working toward ultimately becoming a 'no kill' shelter."
St. Tammany Parish is facing an $18 million budget hole next year following the March defeat of two one-fifth-cent sales taxes for the jail and courthouse. Simpson cited "current budget issues" as the reason that the parish is "looking across the board" at its operations.
The St. Tammany Humane Society, which operates a no-kill shelter on Harrison Road south of Covington, posted a response on its Facebook page to what it called rumors about the parish shelter.
"We understand that animal control services are critical to communities like St. Tammany. If it becomes necessary, we believe a private-public partnership would allow employees of the current parish shelter to continue their hard work for homeless animals in our community," the posting said.