Site for the new Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter off North Roan Street.
The City Commission on Thursday unanimously voted to add $1.5 million to its fiscal 2014 budget for the purpose of constructing the new Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter.
Vice Mayor Clayton Stout first introduced the idea earlier this month, and Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin took the liberty of inserting a spending chart into the meeting for consideration. The chart included the issuance of debt to get the shelter off the ground, $375,000 to help partially fund Johnson City Schools’ safety needs, as well as a few other additions.
The push came in the 11th hour, and city officials are rewriting the budget ordinance this morning in time to vote on a third and final reading.
After impassioned pleas and reasoned argument, commissioners decided that two years of waiting to get the project off the ground was long enough. The city will issue debt to cover the $1.5 million, and commissioners will rely on both Washington County and the Animal Control Board’s fundraising committee to help see the project through, complete with a new spay-neuter clinic.
The city also will use funds from the gas franchise fee, reduce the variable rate debt allocation from 5 percent to 3.5 percent, cut special appropriation spending and eliminate the 1 percent early tax payment discount to help pay for the added expenses.
“We have a piece of property ready to go, and all we’ve been doing is waiting,” Stout said before the vote. “All the project needs is a spark. Economic development won’t happen overnight. I get that. I’ve spoken to the people on the committee, and they still will be a big part of this project.”
Stout then defended the use of revenue saved by cutting special appropriations funding an additional 40 percent in FY 2014.
“It’s not the government’s job to fund it,” he said. “Besides, construction costs are just going to go up.”
Commissioner David Tomita, who also is a county commissioner and an Animal Control Board member, was very hesitant at first, saying that the city had not informed the county about the plan.
“I’m in a very uncomfortable situation,” Tomita said. “The board has had some hiccups along the way. But I’m curious as to why the animal shelter spring-boarded to the top of the list. I question the emergency?”
Commissioners Jeff Banyas and Jenny Brock also had concerns about the city biting off more than it could chew, but Stout and Van Brocklin explained they would continue to communicate with the county about increased funding and that donations and continued fundraising would help pay off the debt.
“When our vice mayor originally brought this plan, I didn’t think we had recurring revenues to do this,” said Van Brocklin, who gave a long and assertive endorsement. “But the sources have been identified. The euthanasia rates are atrocious at the shelter. A point can be made for ‘what’s the point?’ There is a rush. This is greatly needed.”
The shelter is in the process of being relocated off North Roan Street. With Stout’s apparently successful, development likely will take place at the shelter’s current location and at surrounding areas near a new access road to be built as well as across State of Franklin Road at Innovation Park.
Before agreeing to vote for the plan, Tomita reminded the audience that next year is a county election year. He also said the following: “Will the County Commission be told to follow? No. It might have been nice to have made this known to them.”