DANVILLE — A group of private citizens and elected officials has voluntarily started meeting this month to find the best, most affordable way to combine the animal control and animal shelter services of the city of Danville and Vermilion County.
Darrel Jacobs, an attorney and private citizen, volunteered at a Danville City Council meeting last year to find a way to carry out a proposal that the county and city merge their separate animal control and shelter operations. Jacobs has asked Dr. John Mason; former county board Chairman Jim McMahon; county board Vice Chairman Mike Marron; former county animal control officer Jerry Hawker; Diana Bryant with the Vermilion County Animal Shelter Foundation; and a representative of CARA, a local, private no-kill animal shelter, to work with him to find a way for the two governmental bodies to merge their animal operations.
Last year, a committee studied that idea for several weeks and presented to the city council a framework for carrying out a merger. That framework included building an addition onto the county's animal shelter on Catlin-Tilton Road, because it's not big enough to house animals from both the county and city, and the city doesn't have its own shelter.
The city currently contracts out its animal control services to the Danville Humane Society, 1225 N. Collett St., Danville, for $73,000 a year, and the humane society has its own shelter.
Considering a merger between the county and city was partially spurred by the complaints of private citizens who attended city council meetings last year and voiced their concerns that conditions at the society's shelter are not humane to the animals. Those complaints led aldermen to forming the committee that studied alternatives to the humane society contract, including combining the city's operation with the county.
But the initiative lost momentum late last year after the committee presented its findings to aldermen. The preferred proposal was for the city to end its relationship with the humane society, hire its own animal control officers who would work along with the county officers at a combined facility, the county shelter on Catlin-Tilton Road. To do that would cost the city about $500,000 to expand the county's animal shelter and another $250,000 per year in operating costs, mostly to pay for in-house animal control officers. That's compared with the $73,000 the city pays now.
Not all the aldermen on the city council's public services committee supported the proposal or the additional money, but Jacobs told them during the meeting that he believes a merger could still be accomplished in a more affordable way. The city's public services committee gave him the green light to work with Mason and Hawker to pursue a merger. Jacobs and Mason led the effort to raise money to pay for and build the city's Fetch Dog Park.
Jacobs said the group he's pulling together met for the first time last Thursday and plans to meet until they have a more affordable merger plan that can be presented to the county and city some time in March. Jacobs said he believes they can come up with a more affordable proposal that provides the whole county and city with a well-run shelter with a stronger outreach, focusing more on spaying, neutering, rescues, fostering, adopting of animals, which could reduce the number of animals euthanized.
Eisenhauer said he has recently met with newly elected Vermilion County Board Chairman Gary Weinard and they discussed animal control and had a "very fruitful conversation." Eisenhauer said he also continues to talk with representatives of the Danville Humane Society. The city has not renewed its contract with the society and is operating on a month-to-month basis under terms of the previous contract. Eisenhauer said he's also aware Jacobs has assembled a group that's meeting now.
Eisenhauer wouldn't comment on whether the original proposal with its additional construction and operating costs is out of the question now that the city expects to make personnel cuts later this year.
He said the approach all along has been to find the most cost effective means of providing animal enforcement and animal care.
"From day one, we have been mindful of the fact that there are certain resources that we will or will not be able to afford as we move forward, and any recommendation that I make will need to be a delicate balance between care and control of the animals and the financial resources available to us," he said.