Good discussion but no decision at joint meeting about the animal shelter

Questions were asked and discussion was frank at an unprecedented joint meeting of the Jefferson city council and the county board of supervisors Monday to discuss the proposed county-wide animal shelter. No decisions were expected to be made and none were.

Of the elected officials, supervisor Tom Contner was the only one not present. He had a prior commitment. Mayor Craig Berry chaired the meeting. About a dozen other interested persons were at the meeting.

Most of the elected officials agreed that a new facility is needed. Berry said when the existing shelter was built in 1980 it was an appropriate size, but when it began accepting animals from outside Jefferson capacity became an issue. “We’ve enlarged it a little bit, but we haven’t enlarged it for the capacity that’s coming in now. And, it’s become a sore thumb for the city because we haven’t kept the maintenance on the place. That’s the crux of where we are now. Something needs to be done,” Berry said.

Supervisor board chair John Muir spoke for the supervisors. “We’re recognizing there’s benefit to us and we want to participate. We really want to be fair on how we pay for this. It’s a better system for the county and for the small towns, and if we do it all together and do it right. If we want to decide anything, it’s what you’re comfortable with and what we’re comfortable with,” he said. “Where we are now is that we need to know what we’re doing so Don can know what he’s doing.”

Don Orris is spearheading the project. He has offered to fundraise the $1.2 million estimated for construction, but only after the city and the county agree on how operating costs will be covered. Orris presented a budget of $161,000 annual operating costs. With some anticipated revenue, the net is $143,000. The budget includes a fulltime animal control officer and two fulltime equivalents in minimum wage employees.

Berry identified the $110,000 in the budget for salaries as a “major concern.” Muir responded that the animal control officer would free up time for JPD officers and sheriff’s deputies to do the jobs they were hired to do.

Former sheriff Steve Haupert talked with the supervisors about an animal control officer several times during his four years as sheriff and supports the idea. He is on the steering committee for the shelter.

Jack Williams, who became sheriff earlier this month, is not supportive of an animal control officer. He opposes a suggestion that the county take part of its share from the revenue from 28E agreements with county towns for law enforcement services. At the meeting Monday, Williams said there would need to be 24/7 coverage for animal control to benefit the SO or JPD, and that hiring the officer as “on-call” would not work.

Council member Dave Sloan, who is on the steering committee, said an animal control officer would not be able to handle 100 percent of the calls, but could deal with the large majority of them.

Supervisor Dawn Rudolph is also on the steering committee. “What I hear from both boards is that you want to see some animal control help of some sort. If you take that out of the operating cost of the animal shelter, the shelter operating costs don’t look so high,” she said. “We’re at the point that we’re going to have to do something. I don’t see that anyone else has come up with a plan. I don’t know what your Option B is.”

Berry pointed out that without salaries, the annual operating costs are only $35,000. Using the cost share Orris proposed, the city would pay $19,000. The city now pays between $11,000 and $12,000 a year for the shelter. The cost increase to the city would not be crucial he said, and called that sum an “apples to apples comparison.” He said that with the patrol officer position added to the Jefferson police department recently, the JPD would have no problem dealing with animal control in the city with the current staff.

Council member Dan Benitz was the most vocal in opposing the shelter. He said he is concerned about the location of the shelter, saying it should be used for other development, and he’s concerned about priorities. “I admire Don for all the work he’s done. He’s done it right. I’m having trouble getting convinced that we need that expanded facility,” he said. “I think there are a lot of things that need to be worked out before we jump into it… We’re looking at $160,000 budget to keep it operating. Our fire department budget is half that. Where are our priorities?”

Orris has asked for a decision about the operating budget before the end of January so he can meet deadlines for local grant applications. The city council and the county supervisors agreed to have another joint meeting next Monday, Jan. 30, at 10:30 at city hall.

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