Oct 29, 2013 11:39 PM by Andy Koen
PUEBLO - The president of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region claims if voters in Pueblo don't pass a proposed quality of life sales tax increase, they may be forced to close their animal shelter here.
The City of Pueblo and Pueblo County have held a joint contract with HSPPR since 2002 to operate Pueblo Animal Services and provide animal law enforcement across the county.
News 5 Investigates obtained the contracts awarded to HSPPR during those years and discovered the funding nearly doubled from the initial $56,667 per month ($680,004 annually) to the current $100,738 per month ($1.2 million annually).
Additionally, in 2008 City Council gave HSPPR sole authority to issue animal licenses in the county as well as the ability to collect and keep the fees. The most recent quarterly report provided by HSPPR to the city and county shows those fees have amounted to $100,714 this year.
The same report shows the facility running is $155,000 deficit in 2013. However, at least $33,047 of that deficit was spent campaigning in support of the tax question Ballot Issue 1A.
"If 1A doesn't pass, we're really at risk for closing because we understand that there would be significant budget cuts," said Jan McHugh-Smith, President and CEO of the Human Society of the Pikes Peak Region.
"We've been underfunded for many, many years and it's put a tremendous strain on our organization," she said.
As proof of their claim, the HSPPR provided News 5 Investigates with an email listing their operating deficits at Pueblo Animal Services from 2008 to 2012. During those years, public funding for the shelter remained a flat $943,845. However, the Humane Society lists increases in operating costs, salaries and benefits and "administrative allocations."
The largest increase came in the administrative allocations category which tripled from $60,224 in 2010 to $174,000 in 2011. Spokesperson Katie Borremans explained that prior to 2011 the Humane Society had shared its working Human Resources, Information Technology and animal law enforcement dispatch center employees between their Colorado Springs and Pueblo facilities.
The Humane Society also paid for a compensation study and determined that across the board pay increases were in order. Their lowest paid position, a customer service representative, earns $8.85 per hour.
However, McHugh-Smith said those forms are inaccurate indicators of the finances at Pueblo Animal Services because they lump together assets and liabilities for all of their operations.
Puebloans have been generous with the Humane Society in the past, voting in 2005 to spend $4 million on the construction of the Pueblo Animal Services facility on Eagleridge Circle.
Ballot issue 1A would split a projected $7.5 million dollars per year in increased sales taxes between five non-profit agencies (Pueblo Animal Services, the Pueblo Zoo, the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, the Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo, the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center) and the Colorado State Fair.
Pueblo City Council voted earlier this month to strip funding in their 2014 budget from all of the 1A organizations in anticipation of an electoral victory.
"What I think it is is confidence," said Councilwoman Ami Nawrocki. "Confidence in the fact that we believe our community is going to want to support these organizations and frankly the city can't do it any longer through the general fund."
In the event that 1A fails, Nawrocki said the council will likely revise their budget.
Consumers in Pueblo currently pay 7.4 percent in sales taxes on their purchases. If 1A passes that rate would increase to 7.9 percent which is higher than Denver's 7.62 percent sales tax but still lower than Snowmass Village, which has the highest sales tax rate in the state at 10.4 percent.