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County Commission: Seniors, animals do well

Gary B. Gray • Apr 23, 2012 at 10:39 PM

County Commissioner Mark Ferguson popped up from his chair just before the Washington County Commission was about to vote on a well-traveled resolution that now included money for both the new animal shelter and the new seniors center in Jonesborough.

If passed as is, the resolution would have given both the Jonesborough-Washington County Senior Citizens Center and the Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control Board $350,000 each for new building projects.

But Ferguson made a motion to amend the resolution. He asked that commissioners raise the amount for the seniors center to $500,000 — $350,000 from a defunct insurance fund, $50,000 from the general fund and up to $100,000 worth of paving, with the money being transferred from the general fund to the Highway Department.

He also recommended paying the Animal Control Board the $350,000 in increments — $100,000 now, $150,000 when the board has raised $1 million, and up to $100,000 in paving. This money will come from the general fund.

Ferguson said last week’s announcement by Animal Control Board members that donations totalling about $2.8 million could come in to help fund construction did have an effect on the way he structured the amended resolution.

“I wanted to support a project, not a dream,” he said.

The allocations were voted on separately, and each has conditions attached.

“We will put the money for the center into escrow until the first floor is completed, and we’ll use this money for the refurbishing of the second floor and basement floor,” Ferguson said. “And, if ground is not broken in 24 months on the shelter, we can ask for that money back.”

Commissioner David Shanks asked that the resolutions be voted on individually, and the move passed unanimously. After some confusion on how to go forward procedurally, the vote on the animal shelter was taken. It passed 20-2, with Commissioner Pete Speropulos abstaining and Commissioner Ethan Flynn absent.

Before the next vote, County Mayor Dan Eldridge warned commissioners of the county’s impending financial deficit. He also reminded commissioners of their obligation to support the shelter.

“These are two very worthy projects,” he said. “But $150,000 more to the senior center? We’ve got a tough budget coming. In fiscal year 2013, we’re looking at a more than $10 million deficit. A $350,000 allocation to the senior center is quite generous. Twenty six years ago, Washington County and Johnson City partnered to fund the animal shelter in a private act.”

Speropulos took the floor and expressed his concern after being surprised at the jump in funding for the senior center.

“Since we’re in the Christmas spirit of giving, if we’re giving the people of Jonesborough $500,000, it’s only fair we give Johnson City $500,000,” he said.

Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe asked to speak.

“You could have taken the impassioned speech Mr. Eldridge made for the animal shelter and substituted the senior center,” he said. “You’re as much a partner with the senior center as you are with the animal shelter.”

Speropulos withdrew his motion but told commissioners, “I just want you to be aware that Johnson City residents may be coming to us asking for the same thing.”

The senior center vote passed 19-4, a move that motivated seniors on hand to cheer loudly. Commissioners Mitch Meredith, Ken Lyon, David Tomita and Joe Grandy voting against the motion.

Ferguson made a strong stand for funding the senior center, saying the county had “a moral obligation” to help seniors.

“I’d like to respond to that,” Eldridge said. “Let’s not lose sight of our higher obligation, which is to the taxpayers of Washington County.”

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