WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Williamson County’s no-kill animal shelter could expand, again, to add another city to the areas the county shelter helps.

Williamson County commissioners 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 divided in a 3-2 vote.

An expansion would add Georgetown to the group of cities that the county shelter serves. The cities currently include Round Rock, Cedar Park, Hutto and Leander. For Georgetown to join the shelter, the 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 Georgetown’s shelter. Jack Daly, the assistant public works director, said the city needs a new shelter and is already spending $800,000 per year on shelter operations.

The feasibility study will look at if the shelter can handle an expansion and the added 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 run the most effectively, humanely, and with fiscal responsibility if we take into account the data of our shelter and the county,” Animal Services Director Misty Valenta told KXAN. “The approval of the feasibility study will give us the information we need so we can make the best decisions for the animals and citizens of the county.”

Last November, the WCRAS said it was at an “unsustainable” capacity. Staff said the shelter began operating at “emergency capacity” in December. As of Tuesday, the shelter was at 179% capacity for dogs but within its cat capacity, according to community programs coordinator April Peiffer.

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

Georgetown City Council approved its portion of the $50,000 interlocal agreement for the feasibility study last week. 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 any design documents.

If the cities and county move forward 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 would start paying for the percentage of Georgetown animals that come in.

In addition, the city of Georgetown would have a November 2023 bond election to fund Georgetown’s portion of design and construction costs.

A divided vote

Commissioner Valerie Covey, whose precinct includes much of Georgetown, said her concern is the shelter’s capacity issue. She voted in favor of the study.

“As the population of people 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, such as this, should be led by the cities rather than the county.

Long said the county should not go forward with the feasibility study until the other cities have approved Georgetown joining the shelter. She said Georgetown said “no” to joining twice: when the shelter opened and when the first expansion happened.

Their other concern is the shelter capacity and taking on more animals.

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

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

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