ERWIN — Unicoi County Animal Shelter Director Jessica Blevins was not present at Monday’s meeting of the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen. While the meeting was being held, Blevins and several shelter volunteers were taking part in a fundraiser for the county’s animal shelter.
Because of this, it was after the fact that Blevins learned the Board of Mayor and Aldermen had voted 5-1 that the town of Erwin would not to contribute financially to the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board in the 2013-14 fiscal year. As a result of this move, the town will go back to operating its own shelter separate from the Unicoi County Animal Shelter. See coverage of Monday's meeting here.
“We were completely blindsided,” Blevins said Tuesday.
As part of a countywide interlocal agreement, Unicoi County’s three governmental entities — the town of Erwin, the town of Unicoi and the county itself — contribute annually to the animal shelter’s yearly budget. Blevins said the shelter, which has served the county’s three municipalities since it opened, had requested a contribution of around $23,300 from the town of Erwin for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
At Monday’s meeting, Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said the animal welfare board previously submitted a request seeking a 3 percent increase to the town’s standards contribution for the 2013-14 fiscal year. Town Recorder Randy Trivette said the animal welfare board also verbally requested funding to go toward 2 percent salary increases for shelter employees.
“With us paying our own rabies control officer, providing our own vehicles, the gas, the maintenance and equipment, we felt that it would be more economical for the taxpayers’ money if we went back on our own,” Hensley said Tuesday.
However, Blevins said the $23,300 sought by the animal welfare board for the upcoming fiscal year is the same it requested last year.
“The shelter board has not asked, nor expected, any additional funding from the town,” Blevins stated in an email sent Tuesday. “The funding provided previously by Erwin was given to cover wages only — all operational expenses are earned by the shelter through fundraising, donations and program income. Additional funding for staff raises or additional operational increases were not requested from the governments. The shelter’s ultimate goal was to become more self-sufficient each year through fundraising and donations, and request less with time.”
The town operated its own shelter prior to the opening of the Unicoi County Animal Shelter a little more than five years ago. The town’s shelter was located at a facility adjacent to the county’s current shelter, and this is where Erwin will once again operate its shelter.
Blevins said the Unicoi County Animal Shelter had intended to use this facility to house cats, and renovations were under way. As part of a previously-approved agreement between the town and Erwin Utilities, Erwin Utilities is to construct new restrooms near the Erwin Linear Trail. After this is completed, Erwin Utilities can claim the property.
“We were blindly notified that the property the building was sitting on was traded with the utility company during a land swap, and that the building would be demolished in the near future, after much work to renovate the space,” Blevins stated in her email. “The facility will now become the town of Erwin’s Animal Control facility.”
Trivette said Monday that dogs will be available for adoption at the town’s new shelter, and attempts will be made to locate the owners of dogs rounded up within the town’s limits. Animals would be transported elsewhere for euthanasia. He also said cats would fall under the town’s nuisance ordinance, and cat owners who fail to keep their pets on their property could be cited into court.
Blevins said the previous Erwin animal shelter operated as a “pound” in which stray or unwanted dogs were held for a short period of time. She said adoptions, rescue placements and community services were not offered as they are now at the county shelter.
“If the facility continues on that path, city residents will have to surrender dogs to that facility, and not the adoption center we currently operate, with no other choice available for city animals in need,” Blevins said. “Cats will not have any options. Citizens and animals in Erwin have lost a lot of valuable resources in terms of animal care and welfare.”
Since the county shelter opened, it has taken in nearly 9,100 animals.
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said he was surprised by the Erwin board’s decision, as it was not discussed with the county. He said he is unsure if the county will be able to “pick up the tab” to support the shelter, but that the matter would be discussed. He also voiced concern that the decision could threaten the county’s shelter.
“This definitely puts the animal shelter in jeopardy,” Lynch said. “I would have thought there could have been some sit-down time among the three entities and the (animal welfare board) before the town of Erwin decided to do this.”
Like Blevins, town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said he was “blindsided” by Erwin’s decision not to contribute to the shelter, and that he was “disappointed” that other entities involved in the interlocal agreement did not receive notice prior to the vote. He said he would like to discuss the matter with county officials and “reassess” the shelter situation.
“I had no idea they were getting ready to do anything like that,” Johnny Lynch said. “I would have thought they would have met with the three partners and discussed this before they did something like that, but evidently they didn’t want to, so they didn’t. I guess that’s their privilege.”
Hensley said the town of Erwin has not yet allocated money for its shelter. She said the matter would likely be discussed when the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen meets on June 20 for a budget workshop.
“As it stands right now, we’re not going to be participating in the Unicoi County Animal Shelter,” Hensley said.
Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board member Linda Mathes said the animal welfare board will meet this Thursday at 10 a.m. to discuss the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s decision and what the next steps are for the Unicoi County Animal Shelter. Blevins said some numbers will also be crunched so that those involved with the county shelter can get a better idea of the impact of the Erwin board’s decision.
“It does threaten the shelter because we’re a small community, and that’s a lot of money when you total up our portion, that portion, and then what we may have to come up with based on the interlocal agreement stipulations,” Blevins said. “So, we won’t know at this time, but you do the math on that, for a small shelter like this, that would be detrimental.”