Proposed animal shelter has hurdles to jump before fundraising begins

(Edited Thursday with comments from police chief Clouse)

Jeff city council waiting to hear county supervisors’ reaction to estimated operational costs

Don Orris at the city council meeting

After seeing preliminary plans and a cost estimate for a new county-wide animal shelter, as daunting as it may be to raise the $1.2 million needed for construction and furnishing it, it may be equally challenging to assure its operation.

Retired businessman Don Orris has spent the last year researching animal shelters and their operation. He said when he started he would coordinate a fundraising effort for a new shelter, but only after an agreement is in place between the city of Jefferson and Greene County for its operation.

He presented cost estimates for both phases to the Jefferson city council at its Dec. 13 meeting. In what he called a “worst case” operational budget, relying on no revenue from fees or fines, he totaled annual operating cost of the shelter at $161,600.

Floor plan of proposed shelter

Orris and the steering committee (city administrator Mike Palmer, city council member Dave Sloan, county supervisor Dawn Rudolph and county sheriff Steve Haupert) propose an agreement whereby the city and county split the cost based on the origin of the animals in the shelter. The initial split would be 46 percent to the county and 54 to the city. The split would be recalculated every three years, with neither entity ever paying more than 60 percent.

Initially, cost to the county would be $66,000 and cost to the city would be $78,000. (The remaining $17,000 would come from People for Animal Welfare Society- PAWS.)

Of the total, $54,000 would be salary and benefits for a fulltime animal control officer.

Orris showed conceptual drawings prepared by Waggoner-Wineinger Architects. The city and county shared the cost of having the drawings and cost estimate prepared.

Sheriff Haupert estimates deputies spend between 10 and 15 percent of their time on animal control. He suggested the county could use 10 percent of the revenue from 28E agreements with county towns to cover part of the cost. However, that revenue totals only $113,000 annually, according to auditor Jane Heun.

The county would need to find other funds within its budget for operation.

Jefferson police chief Mark Clouse reported JPD officers have about 450 calls per year for animal control issues.

Orris estimates that between both departments, 1-1/3 to 1-2/3 of officers’ time is spent on animal control. He estimated that at $72,000.

The Jefferson city council last month approved adding a fulltime patrol officer at a cost of about $60,000 per year for wages and benefits. Clouse justified that position with an increased number of calls and criminal activity requiring investigative time that makes officers reactive rather than proactive in preventing crime.

Mayor Craig Berry said during Orris’ presentation that the city would not be able to take money out of the police budget to fund the animal control officer. He said the JPD would not be doing animal control and would still have the added patrol officer.

“In the very end, that’s the real problem,” Orris said. “That’s something the city council would have to figure out….. You just added an officer to help you catch up. The county’s going to be in the same position.”

Chief Clouse told GreeneCountyNewsOnline that even without his officers responding to animal calls, there is justification for the additional officer. “It was a huge increase in cases leading to criminal charges that made the need for the new officer,” Clouse said. “Even if we weren’t doing animal calls, we would still need the officer.”

New council member Dan Benitz said he has “philosophical issues” with building a new shelter. “Do we help kids or do we help animals or do we do both?” he asked.

He said he is also concerned about taking the proposed site in the west business park (donated by Greene County Development Corporation) out of use for potential development. City engineer answered that the business park was started in 1983 and sat undeveloped until the addition of a dental office this year.

Council member Gary Von Ahsen added that the site is the least desirable part of the business park.

Council member Harry Ahrenholtz said at the end of the presentation that Clouse should be excited to have an animal control officer and he doesn’t think it will be an “issue.”

“I’ve talked to Mark (Clouse) and I’ve talked to Steve (Haupert), and my personal opinion is that I don’t want them spending their time with animal calls. I want them spending their time with people calls. I don’t think they signed up to be a police officer to be an animal control person,” Orris said.

The city council did not set a timetable for making a decision on paying operating expenses. Orris has not yet presented the information to the county supervisors; he plans to do that before the end of the year. The council wants to know how the county responds to the information before making a decision.

The Jefferson city council does not meet again until Jan. 9.


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