Davis County officials weigh tax hike, planning new shelter to contend with stray dogs, cats

May 25, 2024, 6:31 PM | Updated: 6:33 pm

A dog peers at Animal Care of Davis County in Fruit Heights in an undated photo. The county is plan...

A dog peers at Animal Care of Davis County in Fruit Heights in an undated photo. The county is planning to build a new facility. (Animal Care of Davis County)

(Animal Care of Davis County)

FRUIT HEIGHTS — The expanding population base isn’t the only sort of growth that’s got Davis County officials searching for answers.

With an uptick in stray animals and owners surrendering their pets, Animal Care of Davis County, the sole animal shelter in the county, is crunched for space and money. It’s prompted plans to build a new $15-million shelter and has Davis County commissioners weighing a property tax hike to keep pace with the rising cost of caring for the critters.

County Commissioner Lorene Kamalu pointed to the doubling up of dogs in kennels at the shelter at times, which is just one indicator of the issues at play. That isn’t ideal for the canines and also prompts distress among their human caretakers.

A toll on everybody

“It takes a serious toll on everyone,” Kamalu said. “It’s just way too small, way too old.”

Plans to build a new 32,000-square-foot facility on the grounds where the existing 11,000-square-foot shelter sits, in Fruit Heights, have been the focus of discussions since, at least, 2020. Ashleigh Young, director at the shelter, expects groundbreaking to occur later this year, with the $15 million or so cost to be covered by county savings. Simultaneously, county leaders are proposing a $1.5 million or so property tax hike in the 2025 budget to hire more staff and cover increasing operational costs.

Limited staffing, particularly in veterinary care, means some animals can’t get the medical attention they need and have to be euthanized, Young said. What’s more, short-staffing means dogs at the shelter can’t always get the routine attention they need, and shelter employees aren’t as responsive to the public as they’d like to be. The shelter — part of county government infrastructure — serves all 15 cities in Davis County, handling animal control duties and also caring for strays and other animals.

A worker at Animal Care of Davis County in Fruit Heights holds one of the cats at the shelter in this undated photo. (Photo: Animal Care of Davis County)

Help shelter revenue

“It’s all the operations,” said Kamalu, referencing factors behind the proposed tax hike, including the rising costs of caring for dogs and cats and the increased numbers of animals entering the facility. The tax hike, if approved, would bolster property tax revenue to the shelter to around $4 million, up some 60% from the 2023 figure of $2.5 million. It would cost the owner of an average home in Davis County, worth $526,000, about $11 a year.

Kamalu and Young have been visiting municipal leaders across Davis County one city at a time to explain the tax hike proposal. Animal shelters across the country have been contending with an uptick in dogs and cats.

“There seems to be an understanding of the need for it,” at least among the municipal leaders who have been approached, Young said. Among other things, the increased funding would help cover the cost of hiring a veterinarian, a veterinary assistant, an animal behavioral and training expert, a part-time animal foster care coordinator and two office staffers.

The tax hike proposal, still being fine-tuned, would be the focus of a truth-in-taxation hearing later this year, probably in November or December, according to Davis County Auditor Curtis Koch. If county officials ultimately approve it as part of Davis County’s 2025 budget, the increase would show up on property owners’ tax bills next year.

A range of shortcomings

The need for a new shelter doesn’t solely stem from the number of animals entering the facility. The original building, built in 1985, has a range of shortcomings. “Not only are the mechanical systems and air handling units unreliable and inefficient, the layout of the entire facility is simply no longer functional, providing no space to quarantine and care for sick animals,” reads an explanation of the building plans online.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of animals entering the shelter — reflecting a national trend — has jumped, exacerbating the issues. In 2021, the facility took in 3,960 animals, including 1,560 dogs and 1,989 cats, holding each for an average of 14 days. In 2023, the shelter handled 4,866 critters, including 1,857 dogs and 2,613 cats, for an average of 19 days.

A worker at Animal Care of Davis County in Fruit Heights plays with a dog at the shelter in this undated photo. (Photo: Animal Care of Davis County)

Population growth

The uptick stems in part from population growth. More people leads to more pets and more potential strays. However, the housing crunch also figures in the mix, Young said. If someone can’t afford to buy a home, they may rent instead, and many apartments don’t permit pets or they charge higher rental fees for those with animals, prompting some to surrender their animals to save money.

Apart from that, the shelter has transitioned to a no-kill facility, meaning fewer animals are euthanized, potentially resulting in longer stays for animals as homes are sought. “That’s something that’s very, very important for our residents,” Young said.

To get no-kill status per guidelines of the Best Friends Animal Society, a facility must have a 90% live-release rate, Young said. The Davis County shelter achieved the status in 2022 and currently has a live-release rate of around 94%.

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Davis County officials weigh tax hike, planning new shelter to contend with stray dogs, cats