DANVILLE — A $164,000 donation to the Vermilion County Animal Regulation Department has one local official eager to study the possibility of merging the Vermilion County Animal Shelter and the Danville Humane Society.
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon wants to use some of the money donated to the animal regulation department from the estate of John Pruett, a Danville insurance broker who died eight years ago, to create a "one-stop" shop for sheltering and adopting animals in the county. McMahon said he sees a merger as way of saving taxpayer dollars, and with donated dollars like this, the county can use it to do a feasibility study that he wouldn't do using taxpayer dollars.
McMahon said the money came from 152 acres of farmland in the John Pruett estate that was recently sold and the proceeds divided four ways, with $164,000 going to the county's animal regulation department and another fourth going to the Danville Public Library Foundation. McMahon said the county's share will be put into a separate account, so the board can look at ways to spend it for the benefit of the animals.
But one of his biggest wishes would be to study merging the county's animal regulation operation and the Humane Society in addition to new programs that could lower the number of animals euthanized at the county shelter.
McMahon's suggestion of a merger comes at a time when Danville is considering new possibilities for its animal regulation services.
Currently, the county-operated animal regulation department and shelter, which adopts out animals, on Catlin-Tilton Road serves the county outside Danville. And a nonprofit foundation, independent of the county, raises money to support programs and care of the animals at the county shelter.
Within Danville, the city contracts with the Danville Humane Society, 1225 N. Collett St., to provide its animal regulatory services. The society has its own shelter where animals are adopted out to the public. The Humane Society is a nonprofit organization supported in part by community donations and operated by a volunteer board of local citizens who oversee the operation on Collett Street, not the city.
Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said the city's most recent contract with the local Humane Society, a three-year agreement at $70,000 per year, ended in October and has not yet been renewed, so the organization is providing the services to the city on a month-by-month basis.
Eisenhauer said city administration has been considering the future of its animal regulation services and has requested certain information from the Humane Society board, which has been very cooperative. He said there are programs the city would like to see implemented in addition to what the Humane Society has provided in the past, and the city has considered putting its animal regulatory contract out to bid or considered providing the service in-house.
"Those are all decisions that need to be made prior to determining what direction we need to go," he said. "If we bid the services out in the future, I would like to include the implementation of those programs in any bid we receive."
Eisenhauer said programs the city would like to see include a more aggressive adoption program, a greater public outreach program, animal educational programs and volunteer programs, which the society doesn't currently offer.
Eisenhauer said in regard to a merger of the county and the Humane Society, the city would still want to have a say in leadership of the animal shelter program.
"I would want to have input into the types of programs offered, hours in which the facility is open," said Eisenhauer, who added that he's in favor of any opportunities to consolidate services as long as services are improved through consolidation.
Eisenhauer said the best model for a consolidation is the arrangement the city and county have at the Public Safety Building, where county and city law enforcement departments and the county jail and other services are housed together.
He said a similar model for animal regulation and sheltering would work in which both the city and county pay into a separate entity that has an independent board of directors, who are appointed by the city and county, but have an interest in that entity and oversee the day-to-day operations.
"We both would have input, but it's not city-run or a county-run facility," he said. "At the end of the day, what you want in an animal shelter is to make sure that the health and welfare of the animals in this community are protected and served to the best of our ability."
That's why, he added, it would be best to have a board of true animal lovers looking out for the best interests of the animals than a board of city council members or county board members.
Through a board of that nature, he said, you could also continue a foundation like what the Vermilion County shelter has in place now, and that foundation could continue to raise funds which could support operation of the joint facility.