Unicoi County Animal Shelter Director Jessica Blevins with some pets housed at the shelter. (File photo by Lee Talbert/Press Photo Editor)
UNICOI — Although there may be some fine details to work out and final approval is required, the leaders of Unicoi County’s three governments feel they have a solution that would allow the Unicoi County Animal Shelter to continue to serve all of Unicoi County.
On Friday morning, Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley, Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch and Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch met at the recently opened town of Unicoi Visitors Center to discuss possible solutions.
Following the meeting, the mayors discussed a proposed solution that, if ultimately approved by the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Unicoi County Commission, would see the Unicoi County Animal Shelter remain a countywide shelter.
Hensley said the solution that officials feel would be best would have Erwin’s animal control officer and the county’s animal control officer both become county employees under the supervision of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.
Per the proposal, the governments would look to contract with the Unicoi County Humane Society to have the organization run the county shelter. Each government would contribute an equal amount to fund the Humane Society contract.
“They would be responsible for the building and the animals once they are turned over to the shelter,” Hensley said.
Hensley said a board of control would be set up, which would be made up of the three mayors and a member of the local Humane Society, and this board would replace the current Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board. The Humane Society’s board would act as this board of control’s advisory board, Hensley said.
“The towns and the county have been kind of left out of it, even though we are responsible for the shelter, we have been kind of left out of the loop and just let whoever take over,” Hensley said. “I think it’s time that we take over the responsibility of the shelter and the oversight of it.”
Along with approval from the three governments, a new interlocal agreement would have to be enacted, Hensley said. She said changes and additions may be made to the approval before it is enacted, and that attorneys for each government would need to review the agreement. Hensley said officials hope to have the proposed solution in place by Jan. 1.
“Right now, we’re trying to save the animal shelter and keep it open,” County Mayor Greg Lynch said. “Right now, we want to, basically, strike a deal to keep this thing open while we do our research.”
The Erwin BMA voted June 10 not to contribute to the Animal Welfare Board’s budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, instead opting to move forward with plans to have the town operate its own shelter, as it did before the county shelter opened a little more than five years ago.
Per the interlocal agreement enacted to establish the county shelter, each of Unicoi County’s three governments were to contribute equal annual funding to the Animal Welfare Board budget to go toward the shelter. Shelter officials previously said around $23,000 was being sought from each government, and the loss of this funding from Erwin could threaten future county shelter operations.
At Monday’s meeting of the Erwin BMA, town officials said they intended to proceed with plans to operate an animal shelter separate from the county shelter. Renovations to bring that shelter into operation began earlier this week.
Hensley said Friday that Erwin will now not move forward with this plan, and the county shelter will be accepting animals from within the limits of Erwin.
“At this point, it looks like we’ll be going back to the (county) shelter, at least until Jan. 1,” Hensley said.
Hensley said she will request the Erwin BMA consider budgeting six months, or half the $23,000 contribution previously sought by the Animal Welfare Board. If the proposed solution is enacted, the remaining portion of Erwin’s contribution will be budgeted after Jan. 1, Hensley said.
Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said the Jan. 1 date should give officials time to iron out the details of the proposed solution.
“We’ll work out the mechanics of this and see where it goes,” he said.
Animal Welfare Board Chair Kari Pfaender said she believes the situation involving the county shelter may be moving in a positive direction.
“They were actually able to get together, the three mayors, and talk for the first time, so hopefully we’re moving in the right direction,” she said.
Unicoi County Humane Society President Ellen Reinhardt said none of the mayors have yet approached her regarding the proposed solution, but she said her organization would “definitely be willing to talk to them to hear what they’re thinking.”
“I think the sooner it gets resolved, the better for everyone involved,” Reinhardt said.