BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR
If you saw last week’s Boyne City Gazette article, you know donations are down and finances are tight at the Charlevoix Area Humane Society (CAHS.) And, they are currently looking for tens of thousands of dollars to make their books whole.
But, a new agreement between CAHS and Charlevoix County could help it own the building it is currently in, which would allow the CAHS to apply for much-needed grants.
THIS IN-DEPTH STORY (1,700 WORDS) INCLUDES A DETAILED TIMELINE
The financial woes were made public in a Friday July 15 press release from MacKenzie.
In it, MacKenzie explained that, over the past few years, the local humane society has expanded its services with spay and neuter programs, a foster program, additional medical help for animals, rabies vaccinations in advance for all adopted animals, and more.
“We have done more outreach and public awareness—basically, we have done more with less,” he stated.
MacKenzie told the Boyne City Gazette that services have had to be trimmed and employee hours cut in order to help stem the deficit.
“We’re pinching pennies and trying to create more fundraising events that engage people to participate in what we are doing,” he said.
The CAHS was forced to cut its trap/neuter/spay program which, though MacKenzie described it as vital, was too much of a drain on what little money they have.
On Thursday July 21, MacKenzie told the Boyne City Gazette that the CAHS—which averages an operating budget of between $200,000 and $235,000 annually—is looking at a $40,000 shortfall.
“It’s (new agreement) going to clarify our relationship with the county,” said MacKenzie, who took on the position of CAHS Executive Director nearly three-and-a-half years ago.
As it stands, the CAHS does not own the building in which it resides—this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to win many state and federal grants.
According to MacKenzie, the transfer of ownership process has been in the works for going on three years now.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Nancy Ferguson (R-District 5), who is a liaison to the CAHS board, said she feels the new agreement is close to being finished.
“I think we need to sit the lawyers down in a room together and let them hammer out the final issues,” she said. “We’re just inches apart.”
Ferguson added, “I think this is a very progressive humane society and I think they have worked very hard to come a long way in the last few years.”
Aside from the need for a new agreement, the other big concern is the decrease in monetary donations.
“In speaking with my colleagues in other nonprofits—and, specifically humane societies—that seems to be the public trend: donations are down all over the place,” MacKenzie said. “That might correlate to more charitable organizations having exposure to people via social media—I’m only guessing—but folks are finding more different ways to contribute to charities.”
MacKenzie added that there seems to be an increase in demand for donations all over while the amount people have to donate has remained the same.
Another issue with raising funds, MacKenzie said, is that so many people seem to think the CAHS is a tax-funded public entity—it is not.
The CAHS is a non-profit organization which relies solely on donations for its operating costs.
Charlevoix County does contract some services, it is required to provide, out to the CAHS. The CAHS provides the services and receives its building rent-free in exchange.
CAHS agrees to provide the following services for Charlevoix County in lieu of rent:
• Shelter and basic medical and nutritional care for captured stray animals for a period of 5 -7 days and indefinitely for court-ordered seizure of animals whose needs can be met by CAHS.
• Transport of injured or seriously ill strays for medical evaluation.
• Serve as extra staff in emergency situations (such as mass animal seizures, abuse cases, transport, etc.)
• Euthanization and cremation of animals processed by the Animal Control Officers that are determined to be non-adoptable, generally these are extremely aggressive animals-dealt with at risk to staff.
• Processing of owner redemptions of animals and collection of the appropriate county fees.
• Sales and collection of fees for county dog licenses.
• Clerical and administrative support for the Animal Control Officers.
• Record-keeping for state required reporting.
• Annual reports required by the state of Michigan, Department of Agriculture.
• Conduct stray animal prevention, low-cost spay/neuter clinics and community awareness programs to reduce the volume of stray and nuisance animals in the county.
• Provide adequate office space for the Charlevoix County Animal Control Officer(s).
MacKenzie said CAHS has some new fundraising ideas it hopes will invigorate charitable giving.
“I think one of the challenges, also, is the public still thinks, because of our name, that we are a county entity,” MacKenzie said, adding that it makes it difficult to raise money from the public when they believe their tax dollars are already supporting the organization.
“Once we get this county issue squared away, we should be able to take this place to a whole new level,” he said.
History of the Issue
The following information is taken directly from documents received by the Boyne City Gazette from the Charlevoix County Clerk’s Office. There has been some editing for space and clarity but has not been changed substantially.
Dec. 30, 1997 – a resolution was adopted setting aside $150,000 for the humane society to help it construct a building.
Oct. 14, 1998 – a resolution was adopted addressing the $150,000 that was set aside in 1997 for the Humane Society building. The total contract price was $371,642.44 of which the county agreed to loan them $150,000 (over and above the $150,000 that was set aside in 1997) which was to be paid back to the county over a 5-year period at $30,000 per year.
The Humane Society had $84,000 that they would be pay to the county and the county will pay all contractors with these funds totaling $384,000.
Oct. 14, 1998 – Bid awarded for construction of humane society building in amount of $371,642.44.
Dec. 28, 2000 – An engineer approached the board and indicated that the Humane Society would like to build a crematory and that Boyne City required a signature of the owner of the property to proceed.
The Board authorized the Chairman of the County Board to sign the required permit for the City of Boyne City.
March 4, 2009 – Permission requested to expand the county-owned building that the Humane Society is housed in. At that time, they submitted the request to expand the building, a new lease agreement and a loan discharge agreement having the county forgive the $150,000 debt is requested.
March 11, 2009 – A former county commissioner discussed the request from the Humane Society to forgive the $150,000 debt owed to the County. The Board was not in favor of this and a request was made by the board to review the matter further.
April 2009 – Building & Grounds Committee discussed the possibility they could forgive the debt in phases, dollar per dollar for improvements put into the existing building.
April 8, 2009 – During county board meeting, it was discussed that the proposed renovation project be done in phases. A subcommittee was to be formed to discuss the renovations further.
Jan. 13, 2010 – A resolution was adopted approving a lease agreement with the humane society which included an addendum outlining the services that the humane society would provide for the county in lieu of rent.
A new Loan Discharge Agreement was done at the same time as the 2010 lease authorizing the discharge of the $150,000 on a dollar per dollar basis from 2010 forward.
July 14, 2010 – A resolution was adopted awarding the renovation project for construction at a cost of $44,929.
Jan. 4, 2011 – A letter was received along with invoice copies showing the dollar amount of improvements made to date on the building.
Per the agreement, the 2010 total paid in improvements was $50,078.52, which was deducted from the $150,000 owed to the county. This left a balance owed by the humane society to the county of $99,921.48.
May 11, 2011 – A letter was received from the humane society asking that the county acknowledge in writing to Mason & Kammermann, P.C., their auditors, that the outstanding debt to the county by the humane society was $99,921.48.
February 2013 – At the Internal Government Committee meeting, the humane society contract was discussed and the humane society indicated it would like a new contract.
The discussion was tabled because two key county officials were not at the meeting.
March 2013 – A county commissioner discussed the humane society contract with the Internal Government Committee. The humane society wanted an additional $74,000 of the outstanding $99,921.48 written off their debt to the County.
The request was denied.
Later – In further research, it was determined that, in addition to the lease agreement with the humane society whereas they are to provide services in lieu of rent and utilities, the county had been paying an additional cash assistance over and above what was agreed to in the lease agreement.
• From 1998 through 2008, the county gave cash assistance of $20,000 per year.
• From 2009 through 2013, the cash assistance requests were for $30,000 per year. These were yearly requests for cash assistance and not for services.
According to the humane society, $20,000 and $30,000 were payment for services rendered. The original agreement was free rent as long as they provided a public service as the humane society. The payments were for services provided to the county animal control, care of animals, paperwork, and working with the public. The 2010 agreement changed that.
• The last assistance was made for the October through December 2013 period which is the County’s first quarter of 2014.
According to the humane society, the county’s 2010 lease agreement lists all services the humane society agreed to provide in lieu of rent.
“I think the ‘cash assistance’ take is not an accurate statement from our perspective,” said MacKenzie. “We requested from them payment for services.”
No further cash assistance has been made, as the county legally is not allowed to pay a non-governmental unit unless it is paying for services or goods.
The Humane Society was informed when the last payment was made that it would be the last payment until a new agreement was entered into outlining what services cash payments would cover, since the services that they have been providing to the county have been done in lieu of rent and utilities.
Currently, the county and humane society are still working under the 2010 lease agreement.
For info on making a donation, call (231) 582-6774.