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A hint of animal shelter compromise

Although a compromise on the funding for an animal control center for Harrison County wasn’t reached at Monday night’s joint meeting of officials, there was a hint the county council might just budge a little on its demand to hold construction costs to $300,000.
Two figures were mentioned by Councilman Carl Duley and Council Chair Gary Davis as possibilities: $350,000 and $375,000.
But even the top figure is still about $31,500 shy of an exact compromise on the commissioners’ $513,000 proposal, said Commissioner James Goldman.
“I think they will come up a little, but a compromise is halfway, and I expected them to meet us halfway,” Goldman said later. “If they don’t meet us halfway, then it’s not a compromise.”
Goldman added, “I think their mind set is on money rather than being informed. The only thing they talk about is taxes and money; the commissioners want to provide a county building that will last, one that can be run efficiently.
“It’s a county facility, and as caretakers of the county, we should build a quality facility.”
Davis, who moderated the joint session between the council and the three commissioners, said he thinks the commissioners believe the only answer is the 6,000-square-foot, $500,000-plus building, while the majority of the council thinks a smaller, yet adequate facility could be constructed for $300,000 or a little more.
But commission chair Terry L. Miller told the council: “We’ve worked on this for 1-1/2 years; we’ve been to the experts; we’ve used our architects; we’ve cut costs where we can cut costs.”
Whether it’s called an “animal shelter, an animal control shelter or a slaughterhouse” doesn’t matter, Miller said, “There are no frills in this proposal.”
He said the facility is designed to operate as cheaply as possible. About $60,000 yearly would be needed for a vehicle and two salaries.
Miller said Sheriff C. Wendell Smith has agreed to provide trusty inmates to work there.
After the joint session, Miller said the commissioners will proceed. “We’ve got the request in for $513,000. We’ll go to the next (council) meeting and see what they will give us, if anything.”
Following the one-hour joint session, which was limited to discussion between the council and commissioners due to time constraints, Miller opened the commissioners’ meeting to comments from the audience and several spoke in favor of the plan.
Many in the audience had already left the room, and a couple of those were seen shaking Davis’ hand, with comments of support for a less-expensive proposal.
Gloria Scott of Lanesville, president of HEART (Harrison Education Animal Responsibility Team), said later, “I’m really pleased to see the commissioners working really hard on this.
“I think they have the far superior plan,” she said. “The experts have already told them when it’s built, it’s going to be just big enough, so why put up something smaller?”
From the council’s standpoint, the majority believes it’s not the costs to construct the facility that’s the major drawback, but the annual operating costs that will follow.
Davis explained: “We need to hold down the operating costs on this facility.
“Our concern is that the bigger the building, the higher the operating expense. We can’t pay operating expenses from the riverboat (income). And the operating expenses can only increase by five percent a year.”
He said the figures to operate the facility had not been given to the council, nor have any ordinances been offered that could be enforced to help defray those costs.
He called upon Commissioner J.R. Eckart as the “animal shelter expert” to explain the commissioners’ views.
Eckart said the cost of the facility does not address the operating costs and there will be fixed annual costs no matter the size, such as two full-time workers, a person to staff the facility and an animal warden.
The $30,000-plus costs of an incinerator could be avoided by using a freezer to store euthanized animals, which would be picked up on a regular basis for $200, either weekly or every two weeks.
According to established estimates for a county of this size (34,500 population), from 1,400 to 1,600 animals would be euthanized a year. However, that could be less if the spay-neuter program is continued.
(Currently, $10,000 in tax money has been approved for that purpose. Spay-neuter program organizer Tanya Tuell said appointments are available weekly, and there are openings now, especially for male cats. Call 969-2615.)
“I think that will have a positive effect in keeping the costs down,” Goldman said. “It will pay dividends real quick.”
Councilwoman Rhonda Rhoads explained her stance that the council’s job is to guard against overspending.
“We hope never to be like Clark County, who now has no money … We had to cut $1.6 million from operating expenses requested last year from departments already in place.”
She questioned whether the facility would be for animal control or animal adoptions.
“It will be an animal control center,” Miller said, adding that animals that are not dangerous will be kept for a set time, probably seven days, and then “they will have to go.”
He said the animal control officer should be given the authority to hold desirable, adoptable dogs or cats longer than others.
As he has in the past, Councilman Carl (Buck) Mathes reminded the audience that he supports the commissioners’ plan to resolve the long-standing issue. “I think the commissioners have a good plan; they’re looking out for us.
“I think it’s a necessary expense for our county,” he said. “It will never be a money maker, but it is something we have to have.”
A plan to sell the building in the industrial park, purchased several years ago for use as an animal control center, has majority support, probably “unanimous support” on the council, Davis said.
The sale would give additional land to the county for the facility, which would allow easy access and the ability to hook onto sewer service. But the $100,000 return must go into the general fund and can’t be used to defray the cost of a new building, Davis said.
Councilman Kenneth Saulman also stressed the need for an animal control facility, but he reiterated Rhoads’ concerns. “We need to watch what we spend. At budget time, it’s hard to find places to cut.”
The council’s next meeting is Monday, June 24, at 7.
Davis apologized to the audience for a mix-up on the time for Monday night’s session, which began at 6:30 instead of 6 because the time was incorrect on the posted agenda.