On March 17, in a small conference room at the Washtenaw County administration building, Carolyn Raschke, finance director of the Humane Society of Huron Valley, reported to an even smaller group of Washtenaw County officials.
The HSHV had held a grand opening for its new animal shelter the previous week. Raschke said the recent warmer weather had started to bring visitors out “in droves” to the shelter, and that the shelter had promoted the grand opening as a “celebration.” She reported that the promotion included discounts on adoption fees for animals at the shelter. Also part of the grand opening, said Raschke, was an invitation-only reception for the larger donors to the shelter’s fundraising campaign.
The meeting lasted a little more than five minutes – probably a record for the shortest public meeting of any The Chronicle has covered.
So what was the point of that meeting between Raschke and county officials?
It was the regular gathering of the county’s oversight committee for the Humane Society. The body exists only because of the bonds the county issued in 2007 to finance construction of the HSHV’s new shelter. The structure of the bonding has no impact on the county’s pocketbook, but included the creation of the oversight committee as a way for the county to maintain a kind of “leash” on the money it had backed with its full faith and credit.
The county’s connection to HSHV is not philanthropically based. The county has a contract with the nonprofit, worth $500,000 in FY 2010, to house stray dogs picked up by sheriff’s deputies. That contract satisfies the county’s statutory obligations under the Dog Law of 1919.
Dog Law of 1919
Michigan’s Act 339 of 1919 – also known as the Dog Law of 1919 – gives a glimpse into that period of history, when the main question about stray dogs seem to have been: Who can kill them and when? [The nine-page document contains 20 references to killing dogs.] The world of 1919 was one when dogs were seen as a potential threat to livestock:
Sec. 19. Any person including a law enforcement officer may kill any dog which he sees in the act of pursuing, worrying, or wounding any livestock or poultry or attacking persons, and there shall be no liability on such person in damages or otherwise, for such killing.
Killing stray dogs is not just an option for the county sheriff under the dog law – it’s a requirement:
Sec. 17. [...] On receiving from the county treasurer the name of any owner of an unlicensed dog, the prosecuting attorney shall at once commence the necessary proceedings against the owner of the dog, as required by this act. The sheriff shall locate and kill, or cause to be killed, all such unlicensed dogs. Failure, refusal, or neglect on the part of a sheriff to carry out the provisions of this section constitutes nonfeasance in office.
Does that provision of the Dog Law of 1919 allow law enforcement officers summarily to kills dogs they find that are running loose without their owners? Not according to an opinion issued by Attorney General of the State of Michigan Frank J. Kelley in 1982 [Opinion No. 6024]:
Thus, 1919 PA 339, supra, as interpreted in Youngblood v County of Jackson, supra, contemplates holding a stray dog for some period prior to disposing of it.
Based on the Youngblood v County of Jackson case, the Dog Law requirement of locating and killing stray jobs is interpreted to mean that the sheriff needs to operate some kind of holding facility for dogs so identified.
Washtenaw County meets that obligation through its contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley. The value of that contract in 2007 was $200,000, which has increased by $100,000 each year to its current level of $500,000. No further increases of this kind are planned, because the amount is now in alignment with what HSHV estimated to be its actual cost of providing the service to the county [.pdf of HSHV analysis from 2006]. At the Dec. 2, 2009 meeting of the board of commissioners, Tanya Hilgendorf, HSHV’s executive director, had extended her thanks to the county for the funding. She also told commissioners that if the county were to provide that service independently, it would cost an estimated $1.6 million.
The Bond and Land Agreement
It was on July 18, 2007 that the county board of commissioners approved the issuance of $6.5 million in bonds for the construction of the new animal shelter, plus a $1 million contribution to the HSHV construction fund from its capital reserves. That bond is to be repaid on a seven-year schedule by the county – using funds supplied by HSHV. The bonds were sold in August 2008, with the final payment due in 2015.
To issue to bonds, the county needed to have an ownership stake in the project. So currently, and through the end of the scheduled bond payments, the county owns the newly-constructed animal shelter, and leases the facility back to HSHV. That arrangement is possible through a ground lease agreement in which the county leases from HSHV the property on which the animal shelter is built.
HSHV owns part of that land, and leases the other part from the University of Michigan in an arrangement approved by UM on July 17, 2008. The UM lease to HSHV is for $8,000 for the first 30 years of the 65-year lease, with the amount after 30 years reduced to $1 per year.
Future of the Committee
The county’s Humane Society oversight committee was created in 2007 at the time the bonds for the new animal shelter were authorized. The county board of commissioner’s resolution called for a committee of three: the county administrator, its finance director, and its director of project management. That trio corresponded to Bob Guenzel, Peter Ballios, and Jim Zwolensky.
Zwolensky’s seat on the committee is vacant – he left the county, and is now a product manager at Haworth Office Furniture, in the Grand Rapids area.
At the end of 2009, Ballios retired from the county, but has agreed to stay on a few months to aid in the transition. That transition includes the retirement of Guenzel in mid-May.
So after Guenzel retires, one slot on the Humane Society oversight committee will be filled with current deputy county administrator Verna McDaniel, who’s been hired by the board of commissioners to take over from Guenzel. The spot filled by Ballios will be filled by whomever McDaniel appoints as finance director.
At Wednesday’s meeting, it was agreed that filling the third spot would be something floated past Rolland Sizemore Jr., chair of the county board of commissioners. It was felt he might like to see a commissioner take the position.
At Wednesday’s brief meeting, the oversight committee approved $258,401 worth of invoices. That total covered new equipment for the veterinary clinic purchased from Spartan X-Ray, Inc., accordion doors from Acoustic Ceiling and Partition, washers and dryers from Universal Laundry Machinery, dishwashing equipment from Oliver Supply Company, plus construction fees from Phoenix Contractors, Inc.
Bob Martel, who volunteers his time for HSHV to manage the project on the nonprofit’s behalf, gave the committee an update on how the final stages of the construction are playing out. He reported that there are a few punch-list items still to tick through, but the Humane Society has moved into the new facility. Among the items to be completed are construction of a storage garage, and landscaping details, with some plantings due to go in sometime in May.
Martel also said that some additional wells for the geothermal system were drilled a few weeks ago, when it was discovered that a subcontractor had not fulfilled the total number of lineal well feet that had been specified.
The geothermal system used in the animal shelter’s new construction uses vertical wells and a pipe designed by Hardin Geotechnologies, Inc. The Hardin Geotech pipe provides a more efficient heat-transfer interface, in part through its semi-circular cross-section. The pipe from Hardin Geotech was used by the HSHV architect on the project – A3C Collaborative Architecture in downtown Ann Arbor – for its own geothermal heating system update.
Also buried underground are the two separate septic systems – one for human waste and one for animal waste. Martel said that code requirements require the two separate systems.