ERWIN — Yard signs that read “We want the shelter, not a pound” can still be seen in front of a number of homes in the town of Erwin and, if a proposed solution to that will provide the shelter with equal funding from each of Unicoi County’s governments is approved, those who chose to display these signs may just get their wish.
The mayors representing Unicoi County’s three governmental entities met on Tuesday morning to again discuss the animal shelter’s funding situation, and a proposed resolution will be up for the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s consideration when the panel meets this Monday.
Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said through the proposed agreement, Unicoi County would be tasked with providing countywide animal control services, meaning the town of Erwin would not follow through with operating its own shelter independent of the Unicoi County Animal Shelter.
Per the proposal, the towns of Erwin and Unicoi would contract with Unicoi County to provide animal control for their municipalities.
“In doing that, the town of Erwin will save approximately $40,000 a year,” Hensley said.
Hensley said the town would save this money because the town of Erwin would abolish its animal control officer position, for which it provides the entire salary. The county would instead be in charge of two countywide animal control officers, Hensley said.
According to the proposed agreement, each of Unicoi County’s three government’s would contribute approximately $43,000 annually to go toward shelter salary expenses, with the shelter also contributing some funding of its own.
According to the interlocal agreement enacted around seven years ago to establish the Unicoi County Animal Shelter, each of the county’s three governments was to contribute equal annual funding to the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board to go to the county’s animal shelter. The Animal Welfare Board sought approximately $23,000 in funding from each of the governmental entities in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted in June not to contribute to the Animal Welfare Board in the new fiscal year, instead opting to move forward with plans to have the town operate its own, separate animal shelter. Hensley previously said reasons for the move included cost savings, expectations the Animal Welfare Board had for the town’s animal control officer that differed from those spelled out in the interlocal agreement, and the Animal Welfare Board’s failure to provide the town of Erwin with a required audit.
In July, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted for the town to provide one-half of the funding sought by the Animal Welfare Board. Per this vote, if a funding solution was reached by Jan. 1, the town would contribute the other half of the funding.
Since then, the mayor have discussed a possible solution several times. Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said Tuesday that he and Unicoi County Animal Shelter bookkeeper JoAnn Tatro previously worked out a funding formula that would equalize what each entity would contribute.
Hensley said if the agreement discussed by the mayors on Tuesday is approved at Monday’s board of mayor and aldermen meeting, the animal shelter would be audited as part of the county’s standard annual audit, so that concern would be resolved. She also said changes may be made to the interlocal agreement.
“The interlocal agreement will have to be changed some but, once we get the concept approved Monday night, then our attorneys will come together to come up with an agreement that we’ll bring back to our respective boards for approval,” Hensley said.
Lynch said the county would be charged with dispersing the contributions provided by the towns of Erwin and Unicoi if the proposal is approved.
“I guess the number one thing is we’re going to have one animal shelter,” he said.
Still, Lynch said day-to-day operations of the Unicoi County Animal Shelter would remain essentially the same if the agreement is passed. As an example, he said the collection of adoption fees would still be up to the shelter.
“The director of the animal shelter is going to be the director of the animal shelter and is going to be over all employees,” Lynch said. “There will still be (an Animal Welfare Board), and most of the responsibility, as far as operation of the shelter personnel-wise, will fall to the county.”
But both animal control officers would come through the county’s payroll, if the agreement is approved and, like other animal shelter employees, would be considered county employees. He said these officers will be dispatched by the animal shelter.
“They’ll just be animal shelter employees, Unicoi County employees, and they will enforce the ordinances,” Lynch said.
Lynch said there may be changes to the Animal Welfare Board. Hensley said she and town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch will assume to vacant seats on the board for a period of six months. The county mayor said he will monitor the actions of the board and act as a liaison between the Unicoi County Animal Shelter director and the Animal Welfare Board if needed.
“We’ve got to work out the logistics of the chain of command but, basically, the animal shelter director will be in charge,” he said.
While he said the proposed resolution is still fluid and additional changes may be needed, Greg Lynch said it demonstrates that the county’s three governments can work together on issues to benefit all.
“This shows that the three entities can cooperate,” he said. “It’s one of at least a couple of things that we have interlocal agreements on...It proves that Unicoi, Unicoi County and the town of Erwin can work together to solve problems.”
Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said he is happy to see that a possible resolution may be near.
“I’m glad that we got this thing worked out, and I think the Humane Society and Animal Welfare Board should be happy about this, and everyone concerned should be happy about this,” he said. “I’m glad to see it get settled. I think this will benefit everybody.”
Hensley said she is hopeful her board acts favorably toward the proposal when it is considered this Monday.
“I will be extremely happy to see this settled,” she said.