Commission approves more funds for animal shelter, grants Chamber more time on audit

Published 9:54 am Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye  Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter Director Shannon Posada speaks to members of the Carter County Commission regarding the shelter during the group's meeting Monday night.

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye
Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter Director Shannon Posada speaks to members of the Carter County Commission regarding the shelter during the group’s meeting Monday night.

The second time proved to be the charm Monday night during the Carter County Commission meeting as a request for additional funding for the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter failed by a single vote on the first time it was brought to the floor but passed on a second vote.
The subject of additional funds for the animal shelter was also brought before the Commission in October by Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey, who said the agency would require an additional $195,556.59 in order to operate for the remainder of the fiscal year. His request failed to garner enough votes to pass after some commissioners expressed concerns with whether or not the City of Elizabethton would be able to provide their share of the increased funding this far into a budget year.
A request for additional funds — in the same amount of $195,556.59 — was taken before the county’s budget committee earlier this month, where it was rejected by the committee.
Humphrey placed the item on the agenda for Monday’s Commission meeting and the matter was once again brought up for discussion, and as in the October meeting the debate turned heated at times.
During the meeting, Humphrey called on the newly selected shelter Director Shannon Posada and his administrative assistant Susan Robinson, who has twice in recent months served as the interim director of the shelter, to speak to the Commissioners regarding improvements being made to the shelter facilities and operations as well as the needs at the shelter.
“I observed some horrible conditions at the shelter over the past year,” said Posada, who prior to accepting the position as director had volunteered with the shelter. “They have gotten better over time.”
While things have improved, Posada said there are still improvements that need to be made.
“We have some great ideas we hope to put in place,” she said.
Some members of the Commission discussed research they had done into other animal shelters in the area and suggested that Carter County begin to model its operation after those agencies, which are non-profit entities rather than government divisions.
Humphrey said many of those ideas are being discussed but they are not things that can happen overnight, adding the most pressing need is getting the shelter through the current fiscal year.
“There are all kinds of opportunities to cut costs, but it’s going to take time,” Humphrey said. “Collectively we can make this happen if we have the support and funding.”
Humphrey also called on Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander to address concerns by members of the Commission regarding the city’s share of increased funding.
“We have a signed contract to pay 50 percent of the cost and we will pay 50 percent of the cost,” Alexander said. “We had sort of a sticker shock at seeing a 79 percent increase.”
Alexander said the City of Elizabethton did have some questions regarding the shelter funding, but reiterated that the City would meet its obligations.
“We do understand it was severely underfunded,” he said.
Alexander also told the Commissioners that the City may request to have a meeting between their attorney and the county’s attorney to renegotiate the terms of the contract outlying how the two agencies fund the shelter.
“We feel the city should not pay 50 percent and the county pay 50 percent when the city only represents 25 percent of the population,” Alexander said.
Alexander noted that city residents not only pay city property taxes but county property taxes as well, which in essence means they are paying twice for the animal shelter.
When Commissioner Danny Ward inquired about the funds already expended by the animal shelter from their fiscal year 2016-17 budget, Carter County Finance Director Christa Byrd reported the shelter did not have sufficient funding to pay the salaries and benefits for the agency’s five employees for the remainder of the year.
Nearly five months into this fiscal year, Byrd more than half of the shelter’s budget has already been spent. The Finance Department has already paid out $125,550.50 in salaries, benefits and other expenditures with an additional $49,200 in open purchase orders representing bills owed, Byrd said. That leaves the shelter with an unencumbered balance of $85,919.35 in the shelter’s budget.
“That is not enough to cover payroll for the rest of the year,” Byrd said, adding another $10,000 would be needed to just to cover salaries and benefits. That would still leave no money to pay for utilities, medical care or supplies for the shelter.
“I can’t approve any purchases when I know there is not enough to pay salary and wages,” Byrd said.
During the meeting, Humphrey, who serves as chairman of the Commission, voiced his opinion on shelter operations several times and was called to question on the matter by Commissioner Buford Peters.
“Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, you are lobbying from the chair and that’s not appropriate,” Peters said.
Peters cited the Commission’s rules and bylaws that state a chairperson must step down before expressing an opinion on a matter up for discussion or lobbying for an issue. He then called for Humphrey to step down as chairman for the remainder of the debate and turn the gavel over to vice-chairman Ray Lyons.
“I refuse to do so,” Humphrey responded.
Peters then called for a ruling by County Attorney Josh Hardin as to whether or not the chairman could “lobby” from the chair.
“I do agree, if the chairman has taken a position on an issue he needs to step down,” Hardin said.
The Commission then took its first vote on the matter for the night.
A motion to approve the budget amendment allocating an additional $195,556.59 in funding to the shelter failed on a vote of 12-11, with one commissioner abstaining from the vote.
After the motion failed, Humphrey addressed the commissioners. “What you’ve done tonight is shut down the animal shelter,” he said.
After a short recess to the meeting, the matter of shelter funding was one again brought up as Commissioner L.C. Tester said he would like to consider giving the money to the shelter on a one-time basis to get through this fiscal year but for that money not to carry over to the next year’s budget automatically.
Byrd explained that budget amendments are one-time expenditures and when next year’s budget cycle starts the shelter would start out at its original funding level and commissioners could make a decision on funding at that time.
Tester then made a motion to approve the budget amendment for $195,556.59, which was seconded by Commissioner Cody McQueen. This time the motion passed by a margin of 14-9 with one commissioner abstaining.
In other business, the Commission voted to grant the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce until the Commission’s January meeting to provide a copy of their audit as required by the tourism contract.
The original terms of the county’s contract with the Chamber called for the audit report to be due by the end of October or face being in breach of contract.
Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Chairman Ken Markland appeared before the Commission Monday evening to explain the audit is still in process at this time. Because tourism previously was under the organizational umbrella of Carter County Tomorrow, the tourism audit is part of the CCT audit. Now that the county has severed ties with CCT, Markland said tourism is being extracted out of the CCT umbrella and being placed under the Chamber of Commerce.
Markland said he anticipates the audit will be complete in time for the January meeting.
Commissioner Randal Jenkins made a motion to grant the extension to the Chamber, which was seconded by Commissioner Michael Hill and passed by a margin of 21-3 when placed to a vote by the full Commission.

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