Animal shelter takes next step
By ANDREW MCGINN
You could almost see the tails begin to wag Monday during a joint meeting of the Jefferson city council and Greene County board of supervisors about a proposed new animal shelter and dog park when staff salaries were removed from the funding equation.
Instead, there’s a possibility that every municipality in Greene County will pay to have a full-time animal control officer.
“I don’t think they’re paying their fair share,” Jefferson Mayor Craig Berry said of the other towns in regards to the animal control issue plaguing law enforcement.
No action was taken, with the entities agreeing to reconvene talks at 10:30 a.m. Monday at City Hall.
This week’s first joint meeting marked the start of deciding which entity will pay for what, and how much, of a proposed Greene County Animal Shelter and Dog Park on land currently owned by the Greene County Development Corp. off Highway 4 to the north of the Catholic cemetery.
Retired Jefferson hardware store owner Don Orris has volunteered to privately raise the $1.2 million needed to build the proposed facility — but it would be up to the city and county to jointly fund its projected, $143,952 annual operating budget.
Of that, more than $108,000 is earmarked for salaries and benefits.
The proposed facility would support a full-time, on-call animal control officer for the entire county and two part-time staff members.
As it stands, though, Jefferson already has free animal control. Police Chief Mark Clouse said Monday the Jefferson Police Department will continue to provide those services free of charge.
Under Orris’ proposal, which he has called a worst-case scenario that doesn’t take into account volunteer time and adoption fee income, the city of Jefferson would pay $77,734 annually to operate the facility, with the county paying $66,218 annually.
“Our fire department is half that,” Councilman Dan Benitz said. “Where are our priorities?”
Benitz, while questioning the need for an expanded new animal shelter, conceded that an animal control officer is needed.
That would seem to increase the likelihood of the county’s other communities chipping in.
What went unmentioned at Monday’s meeting is that, whether they like it or not, they soon will be.
New Greene County Sheriff Jack Williams said Tuesday he’s going to begin fully enforcing his office’s 28E contracts with the other communities.
In nearly every contract, he said, the sheriff’s office is supposed to be charging $50 per hour to do animal control.
Williams said his predecessor didn’t charge communities for animal control.
“For free, we’re not going to do it anymore,” he said.
Beginning this month, he’s tallying up how much time his deputies spend on animal control and will bill each community accordingly, calling the situation “out of control.”
“We can’t afford to keep running back and forth for barking dogs and dogs at large when crime is extremely high as is,” Williams said. “We want to be centered more on people than on animals.”
He estimated his office already spends between 15 percent and 20 percent of its time dealing with animals and various other municipal infractions in the towns where deputies are contracted to provide law enforcement.
Williams also plans to propose raising the cost of contracted services 10 percent beginning in fiscal-year 2018.
“Once they see what the cost of animal control is,” he said, “then maybe the cities will pitch in more to this animal control facility.”
Free of shouldering the burden of staffing the facility alone, Berry calculated that a new animal shelter would cost the city $19,000 a year, and the county $16,000.
Berry said the city’s current, significantly smaller animal facility already runs the city upwards of $12,000 annually.
That facility wasn’t designed “for the capacity it needs now,” Berry said.
“It’s probably the poorest city facility we have,” he said. “Something needs to be done.”
There were more questions than answers at Monday’s initial joint meeting, including the possibility of uniform animal licensing requirements across the county.
“An animal deemed vicious in Paton would be deemed vicious in the entire county,” Berry said, questioning whether any such requirements would extend to dogs and cats on farms.
Also discussed was whether a new shelter would euthanize animals after a certain length of stay.
Animal lovers in attendance Monday spoke against putting a time limit on an animal’s stay at the shelter. Orris said most shelters, including Jefferson’s current shelter, have a “low-kill” policy.
Benitz questioned the use of readily available development land for an animal shelter.
“It could put a nail in the coffin of that area,” Benitz said.
Orris answered that GCDC initially solicited business owners — including him — for money to develop a business park, and in the years since, only a dentist office has located there.
The shelter, Orris said, would be built in the least desirable section of the business park.
“It’s perfect for us,” he said.