Williamson County looks to expanding animal shelters with Georgetown

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) – The Williamson County no-kill animal shelter may expand, once again, to add another city to the areas the county shelter helps.

Williamson County Commissioners have approved a feasibility study to see how the shelter can grow on its five acres of land and how many kennels could be added to the shelter. But the decision was split in a 3-2 vote.

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An expansion would add Georgetown to the pool of cities served by the county refuge. Cities currently include Round Rock, Cedar Park, Hutto, and Leander. For Georgetown to join the shelter, member cities would need to approve the addition.

The city of Georgetown began exploring a county partnership in November. A potential merger would give the regional facility all operations of the Georgetown shelter. Jack Daly, the assistant director of public works, said the city needs a new shelter and is already spending $800,000 a year on shelter operations.

The feasibility study will examine whether the shelter can handle an expansion and additional animal capacity from Georgetown. The study will also look at how many additional kennels the shelter can add.

“Data is very important to our shelter. We know we can manage in the most effective, humane, and fiscally responsible way when we consider our shelter and county data,” Animal Services Director Misty Valenta told KXAN. “The feasibility study approval it will give us the information we need to make the best decisions for the county’s animals and citizens.”

Last November, WCRAS said it was at an “unsustainable” capacity. Staff said the shelter began operating at “contingency capacity” in December. As of Tuesday, the shelter was at 179 percent capacity for dogs but within capacity limits for cats, according to Community Programs Coordinator April Peiffer.

WCRAS opened an expansion in 2019 that nearly doubled in kennels for dogs and cats.

The Georgetown City Council approved its end of the $50,000 inter-city agreement last week for the feasibility study. Georgetown will pay for the study, concept plan and expansion cost estimates, but the county is responsible for managing the project, according to county documents. Together, the city and county would review and approve all design documents.

If the cities and county go ahead with an expansion, Georgetown would pay for any expansion as a result of the feasibility study. The city would also pay the five original members for their share of the original building and begin paying for the percentage of Georgetown animals that enter.

Additionally, the City of Georgetown would have a bond election in November 2023 to fund Georgetown’s portion of the design and construction costs.

Split vote

Commissioner Valerie Covey, whose district includes much of Georgetown, said her concern is the issue of shelter capacity. You voted in favor of the study.

“As the human population has grown, so has the number of animals,” Covey said.

The other commissioners, including Russ Boles and Terry Cook, said the study will show whether an expansion is a good idea.

County Judge Bill Gravell and County Commissioner Cynthia Long voted against approving the feasibility study. Gravell said non-urgent matters, like this one, should be led by cities rather than the county.

Long said the county shouldn’t move forward with the feasibility study until other cities approve Georgetown to join the shelter. He said Georgetown said “no” to membership twice: when the shelter opened and when the first expansion happened.

Their other concern is housing capacity and hiring more animals.

“The day we opened the expansion, we were full again,” Long said.

Gravell shared concerns about the shelter’s ongoing struggles with current levels of staff, volunteers and space.

“If we’re struggling to keep our heads above water now…how are we going to manage the expanded capacity,” Gravell said.

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