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Jeffco boosts funding share for animal shelter: Proposal has foundation, municipalities backstopping $1.5 million outlay

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By AJ Vicens

A deal that would have Jeffco taxpayers foot an additional $1.5 million for the Foothills Animal Shelter project with the promise of being repaid within five years seems headed for approval.

County staff recently suggested spending an additional $1.5 million from the general fund to make up for slow fund-raising on the part of the Table Mountain Animal Center Foundation.

The new shelter, which will replace the Table Mountain Animal Center, is set to open in fall 2010 at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

The county is funding the bulk of the $9.7 million, 30,000-square-foot shelter, with $3 million coming from the general fund and $5.2 million from a loan to be repaid by dog-licensing revenues.

Todd Leopold, the county's top budget official, defends the recommendation to use the additional money from the general fund. He said the foundation's fund-raising efforts are ongoing, and any money it raises for the project will be paid to the county with added interest.

If the foundation can't raise the full amount in five years, five cities in the county will likely agree to repay the difference with added interest. Those cities are Golden, Arvada, Wheat Ridge, Lakewood and Westminster.

The Jeffco commissioners haven't formally voted on the idea but seemed supportive when it was described at a recent meeting.

Leopold, Jeffco's administrative services director, said the money is needed because it'll be cheaper to build the shelter in one project than in phases, something that would have been necessary if the project would have had to wait for the TMAC Foundation to raise the $1.5 million.

"Although they've had a fair number of pledges, they don't have all the cash on hand," Leopold said. He recently told the Jeffco commissioners that the foundation had about $800,000 in five-year commitments but only $70,000 cash on hand.

Golden's finance director said he thinks the City Council will approve the plan.

"In general terms, we have something that all parties involved can support," said Jeff Hansen. "It remains to be seen until the various councils and leadership approves it, but from a staff perspective, we're all supportive of the concept.”

Hansen is also a member of the Table Mountain Animal Center board of directors. He said fund-raising has been difficult because of the economy.

"In general, the change in the economy over the last year has had some impact on the ability to fund-raise," Hansen said. "Fund-raising is usually more effective in the fourth quarter of a calendar year, and it will be more successful once construction is underway so potential donors can see that the project is viable."

Lakewood City Manager Mike Rock said he's fairly certain the Lakewood City Council will agree to the proposal.

"It makes good sense for taxpayers," Rock said. Building the shelter in phases could add an additional 40 percent to the overall cost. He added that any funds raised by the foundation are easing the public burden.

"At the end of the day, this is the responsibility of local governments to build," Rock said.

Patrick Goff, Wheat Ridge's deputy city manager, said he's hopeful his town’s City Council will approve the plan but isn't sure how members will respond.

"At the end of the day, it keeps the project less costly," Leopold said. "It'll be nice to see that the cities are at least willing to back this and feel confident that the foundation is moving forward (on meeting the fund-raising goal)."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.