Mayors still working on animal shelter solution for Unicoi Co.

Brad Hicks • Nov 13, 2013 at 1:49 PM

UNICOI — The deadline that would ensure the Unicoi County Animal Shelter receives the funding it initially sought for the 2013-14 fiscal year is approaching, but County Mayor Greg Lynch assured members of the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board that the heads of the county’s governmental entities are continuing to work toward a resolution at the board’s Tuesday meeting.

Lynch said he, Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch and Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley had a recent informal meeting to discuss the situation involving the Unicoi County Animal Shelter, their first meeting since July when they met to discuss possible solutions.

Hensley previously said three options resulted from the informal meeting — leaving things as they are with the caveat that the Animal Welfare Board provide the town with an annual audit, having the town of Erwin contract with Unicoi County to have the county operate the shelter, or reworking the Animal Welfare Board to include the county’s three mayors.

“The more I look into this, the more I think we’re not going to be able to pull this off by Jan. 1, so I talked to Doris about the three mayors actually coming on the board here and things kind of status quo as they are now,” Greg Lynch said Tuesday.

Lynch said this would give the mayors a “few more months” before presenting possible solutions, such as the county takeover of the shelter, to their respective governing boards. He said having the three mayors joining the Animal Welfare Board is a “distinct possibility.”

According to the interlocal agreement enacted around seven years ago to establish the Unicoi County Animal Shelter, each of Unicoi County’s three governmental entities was to contribute equal annual funding to the Animal Welfare Board to go toward the shelter. The board sought around $23,000 from each government in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

In June, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to cut the town’s contribution to the board in the new fiscal year and move forward with plans to have the town operate its own shelter separate from the Unicoi County Animal Shelter. Hensley previously said the reasons for the town’s move included cost saving for town’s taxpayers, expectations the Animal Welfare Board had for the town’s animal control officer that differed from duties outlined in the interlocal agreement, and the Animal Welfare Board’s failure to provide the town of Erwin with a required audit.

The following month, the Erwin board voted for the town to provide one-half of the funding sought by the Animal Welfare Board. If a solution is reached by Jan. 1, the town will contribute the other half of the funding for the second half of the fiscal year.

“I think that would just be a sad day if you had two different animal shelters operating in a county where there’s 18,000 people and 100,000 acres of land,” Lynch said. “I just don’t see that as something that would be productive.”

Lynch said the mayors will have another meeting in the near future. In the meantime, he said he would continue to work on figures. Lynch said he is looking into the costs associated with having two-full time animal control officers at the shelter to not only perform animal control duties, but also assist with regular shelter duties. He said he intended to discuss the responsibilities of the animal control officers with Unicoi County Animal Shelter Director Jessica Blevins, as well as discuss the costs with her, as Lynch said having to full-time officers at the shelter may come at the expense of part-time staff there.

• Related: Unicoi County Animal Shelter faces funding uncertainty

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