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Officials take step in animal shelter move

Gary B. Gray • Feb 2, 2012 at 11:29 PM

As of Thursday night, the Johnson City/Washington County Animal Shelter moved $350,000 closer to its new home thanks to a unanimous vote by the City Commission to allocate the funds to the Animal Control Board for the purchase of a piece of property off North Roan Street.

Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin, who represents the city on the board, the entity that would in the end be making the purchase, sweetened the pot to the tune of $25,000 for construction from a personal donation.

“For at least a decade, maybe two, there has been talk of a new facility,” said City Manager Pete Peterson. “The current facility is very degraded. They’ve looked at about 30 properties. This particular property is not currently on the city’s tax rolls, but we’ve planned to redevelop that area, and we recently received word that we will be able to build an access road there.”

A sales agreement for the purchase of 6.6 acres at 3411 N. Roan St. has been drawn up in which owners Heyward and Cherry Sell agree to sell the property to the city for $500,000. The city would then convey the property to the Animal Control Board.

Washington County’s Health and Welfare Committee has recommended that the County Commission approve a matching amount for acquisition of the property, but County Mayor Dan Eldridge said Wednesday the county had some pressing capital projects to deal with and that he knew some county commissioners may not vote to fund the match. He said it was “not a done deal.”

Several city commissioners stated without reserve that it was their understanding the county had committed to the match, and Commissioner Clayton Stout went as far as pushing for a news conference at which county officials would make an on-the-record pledge.

Stout also questioned whether the city was prepared to pay for the new shelter if a fundraising drive by the Animal Control Board fell short of the $1.2 million needed to build the initial facility, which would later be expanded.

“Many years ago, the city and county entered into an agreement to provide animal control,” Peterson replied. “Should fundraising efforts fall short both the city and county governments would look at funding the shelter.”

Shelter Director Debbie Dobbs thanked commissioners and said the board’s next step is to connect with an architect as soon as possible so that plans can be drawn up and a more accurate figure for construction could be made available.

“We’re hoping to get an architect in about two months,” she said. “I want to thank you all for the help and guidance you’ve given us.”

Both Dobbs and Vice Mayor Phil Carriger said the County Commission has assured the city that they will make good on the match. Again, that body has not offered their yeas and nays on the allocation.

“I challenge all citizens in our community to donate,” Van Brocklin said. “Having patience did allow us to find an affordable and easy accessible location, but we need the help of the County Commission. The money from them is hugely important, because these funds will be used so the Animal Control Board can buy the property.”

The $500,000 is for the purchase of the property and help with relocation. Whatever is left over from the $700,000, assuming the county approves their allocation, will go toward building the new shelter. The Animal Control Board also has about $186,000 in its building fund.

Meanwhile, commissioners unanimously rejected a proposed agreement with Florida-based ESA Renewables for the installation of solar-powered panels, or photovoltaic systems, on roofs, parking lots and other locations at more than 20 city buildings, including some schools.

After months of work, specifically by Public Works Director Phil Pindzola, the numbers just did not seem to line up in the city’s favor and commissioners agreed not to take a risk on changes in electric rates and other missing pieces and non-guarantees in the 10-year renewable contract.

“I would like everything nailed down as tight as we can get it, but the revenues seem to be a moving target,” Van Brocklin said.

Mayor Jeff Banyas, Carriger and Stout were visibly and verbally uncomfortable with an agreement that had come at the eleventh hour. The deal could have helped the city reap about $1.5 million through TVA’s Generation Partners Program. But under the TVA program, ESA had to have the systems up and operating by April 17, and going back to the drawing board was not an option.

“Everyone would like to see Johnson City move to solar panels,” Banyas said. “But as presented, I don’t believe it’s in the best interest of the taxpayers.”

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