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Erwin alderman presents funding alternative for Unicoi County Animal Shelter

June 20th, 2013 10:01 pm by Brad Hicks

Erwin alderman presents funding alternative for Unicoi County Animal Shelter

ERWIN — Erwin Alderman Robie Sullins said he has been racking his brain for the past week to come up with a solution to the situation involving the Unicoi County Animal Shelter that would be beneficial to both the shelter and the town of Erwin.

At Thursday’s called meeting of the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Sullins presented a proposal that he feels will not only provide the county shelter with the funding it is seeking, but would save the town thousands of dollars in the process while providing all county citizens the same level of animal control service. No action was taken on item at the meeting. 

“There had to be a solution, and whatever solution we came to, I believe it has to include funding for the shelter,” Sullins said prior to the meeting. “It’s important to strike a balance between frugal with the town of Erwin tax dollars, but at the same time making sure the shelter received money.”

• Related News: Questions, opinions floated at public forum concerning Unicoi County Animal Shelter

Through Sullins’ proposal, the town would provide the nearly $23,300 contribution sought by the animal shelter in the 2013-14 fiscal year and subsequent years. The town’s animal control budget would be absorbed by another governmental entity in Unicoi County. The town of Erwin currently budgets approximately $55,000 for animal control, which includes the salary of its animal control officer, his vehicle costs, fuel costs and training expenses.

With the town’s animal control budget absorbed by another entity, the town could provide around $20,000 annually to hire a second full-time or part-time animal control officer to work with the county’s current officer. This, Sullins said, would save the town around $35,000, which is more than would be saved if the town did not contribute the funding the county animal shelter is seeking.

“I hate to see, especially in a situation like this, I hate to see anyone lose when everybody can win,” Sullins said. “This proposal would ensure that the animal shelter receives the money that they need, that they’ve been given. You’re getting your same service under animal control. The Erwin taxpayers are saving money to help balance our budget. The animal shelter can focus on what’s important to them, making sure the animals are getting adopted out. That’s something the director can focus her time on instead of having to deal with this money situation.”

Sullins said he worked on the proposal with other county officials, including Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley. He said the sheriff has indicated he would be absorbing the countywide animal control under his budget, which includes the entire animal control budget for Erwin. Sullins said this would place county’s two animal control officers under the supervision of a law enforcement agency and, because they would be under the sheriff’s department, could serve the entire county, including Erwin.

“You’ve got animal control officers citing people into court. It makes sense to put them under law enforcement, and put them under the direction of the county sheriff,” Sullins said. “That way, you don’t have a county animal control officer and a city (officer), which kind of creates a little bit of a redundancy and confuses people at times. Now, you have two countywide animal control officers which, I believe, would be more efficient.” 

Hensley discussed the proposal at a Thursday morning meeting of the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board. While he said some details on the proposal would have to be ironed out if it is approved, he voiced confidence it would be a favorable solution to all parties. He also said the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen must pass the proposal before it becomes effective, adding that the loss of the county shelter would be a “crisis” for the county.

“This is something that we’ve got to keep,” Hensley said. “It is a necessity for all communities — the town of Unicoi, the town of Erwin and Unicoi County. We’ve worked too hard, we’ve came too far, and these issues can be worked out. There’s no doubt these issues can be worked out.”

On June 10, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 5-1 not to contribute funding to the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board in the 2013-14 fiscal year and move forward with having the town operates its own shelter, as it did in the years prior to the opening of the Unicoi County Animal Shelter in 2008. Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley previously said reasons for this move included expectations the animal welfare board had for the town’s animal control officer that differed from the town’s and responsibilities spelled out in the interlocal agreement, a request from the animal board for the town to increase its contribution in 2013-14, and its failure to provide the town with a required audit. Sullins was one of the aldermen who voted against providing the contribution. 

“I don’t think that our board had issues with the shelter,” Sullins said. “I think our board had issues, maybe, with the interlocal agreement and some of the decisions the animal board had made, particularly the audit.”

Sullins said other changes could become part of the proposal, including changes to the makeup of the animal welfare board and alterations to the interlocal agreement between the animal welfare board and Unicoi County’s three governmental bodies. He said the agreement was needed when it was enacted in 2006 to get the county shelter up and running, but he feels changes could be made that would see the governments relinquish some of their control over the shelter.

“What we’re looking at now, it’s not about the animals and now it’s about politics, and I don’t understand why there has to be the three governments with so much oversight over an animal shelter,” Sullins said. “You’ve got an outstanding director who is very capable of running that animal shelter with very little oversight. ... The shelter does not need our oversight as much as they need our financial support.”

Sullins said Thursday evening that the Erwin board has not taken action on this proposal and that other options are being explored by town officials. 

Unicoi County Animal Shelter Director Jessica Blevins said Thursday evening the proposal as described by the sheriff earlier in the day would be favorable to the shelter. 

“We think that would be the best, efficient scenario for the governments in terms of animal control and the animal shelter,” she said. “We really appreciate him taking the time to try to help come to a conclusion so that we can move forward with this change that we’re going through.”

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