Commission to discuss spending $197,000 to complete ‘bare bones’ animal shelter

During their monthly workshop on Tuesday, Blount County commissioners passed to the agenda a motion to appropriate $197,000 from the general fund to complete the Blount County Animal Center.

County mayor Jerry Cunningham said if commissioners appropriated the money for a “bare bones” facility, it could be operational in four to five weeks. The county would oversee construction of the facility located on Currie Avenue behind the Boys and Girls Club of Blount County.

The Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation has been at the forefront of fundraising for the project, but Cunningham said the economy stalled their efforts.

“This whole thing stalled out because of the economy. When the economy bottomed out, they hit a brick wall. It’s not the Foundation’s fault, it’s the down economy that brings us where we are,” Cunningham said. “We’re in a catch-22 on this darn thing. We’re not worried about thrills. It addresses public safety.”

The mayor said that when the project started and the foundation took over construction and fundraising, “their eyes were bigger than their budget.” The facility was to have surgical and adoption facilities and classrooms. The facility Cunningham proposed would have kennels, a euthanasia room and whatever else is needed for a basic intake facility for animals that are surrendered or picked up by animal control.

Cunningham said the building is now under roof but vandals have broken out some of the windows, and Loudon County is growing wearing of contracting to accept animals from Blount County.

“The animal control situation is better than it has been in three years, but we’ve got to complete the intake section, not the adoption section or the whole concept,” he said. “There hasn’t been any construction for months now, and we have to take over and get something moving.”

Initially it appeared it would cost $300,000 to complete the intake portion but the county was able to get the figure down to $197,000.

“We’re spending about $70,000 to $75,000 a year with the $4,000 a month fee to Loudon County. It’s a common sense thing to go ahead and build the bare bones intake facility for surrendered and seized animals,” he said. “It will not have all the amenities. That’s something we hope to have through private donations. This would be to control the animal population.”

The mayor said asking to dip into the rainy day general fund for the project goes against what he would normally advise. “But we’ve got a rainy day situation. We have to have this facility, or we’ll be back to no animal control in no time at all,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s a service folks in the county deserve. The shelter will be managed and owned by Blount County. The foundation is the fundraising (arm). The foundation has done a lot of good work, but the management of it will be the county’s and ownership will be the county.”

Commissioner Mark Hasty asked if the $350,000 in seed money the county gave the foundation would ever be repaid. The mayor said that in the long haul the foundation hopes to repay that debt through adoption, spaying and neutering fees. “I don’t think that is going to happen. What you put into the shelter is not coming back,” he said.

Commissioner Bob Proffitt asked if the center could ever be self-sustaining. “My honest answer is I don’t think it will ever be self-sustaining and will always have to be supplemented by the tax dollar,” Cunningham said. “It’s a service. I can’t imagine charging enough fees to cover the operating expenses of it.”

French asked how much the total cash investment would be by the county. County finance director Dave Bennett said it would amount to $450,000. There is $9 million to $10 million in the county general fund, Bennett said.

Commissioners David Ballard, Tonya Burchfield, Gary Farmer and Scott Helton were absent. Commissioners voted 16-1 to pass the motion on for discussion in the regularly scheduled commission meeting on July 16.

During public input for items on the agenda, Linda King of Blount County disagreed with putting more public money toward the animal facility.

“I’m not against taking care of animals who have been abandoned but I have a problem with putting funds toward this cause while we have schools that need funds,” she said. “This shelter is out of control like most any public/private partnership. Where will it end? Let’s cut back on future animal shelter growth while we still have the ability to control its spending.”

Blount County General Sessions Judge William Brewer presented the 911 Emergency Communications Center budget to the commissioners. “We are required after we pass a budget to present that to you,” he said. “We present this for informational purposes only.”

The budget is for $2,040,000 for fiscal year 2009-10. The budget for fiscal year 2008-09 was 2,031,000. Revenues and expenses rose by about $9,000, he said.

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