Commission OKs funding for Sheriff’s animal control officer plan

Published 10:47 pm Monday, March 20, 2017

In a split vote Monday night, members of the Carter County Commission approved funding for a plan to provide around-the-clock animal control officers for the county.
Commissioners voted 16-6 to allocate up to $35,000 for the remainder of the 2016-17 year to get the program up and running.
The Budget Committee previously endorsed the proposal by Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford. On Monday night, Budget Committee Chairwoman Sonja Culler asked the full Commission to approve the recommendation by the Committee.
Lunceford and Animal Shelter Director Shannon Posada also spoke to the Commission regarding the proposal. Last year, Lunceford said, Carter County 911 received and dispatched around 1,200 animal control calls.
“This will give us animal control in the county 24 hours a day, seven days a week for somewhere in the neighborhood of $39,000 a year,” Lunceford said.
Under Lunceford’s plan, the Sheriff’s Office will train five sworn officers from the jail to work a rotation on an on-call basis to respond to animal control calls dispatched through 911 or calls where an officer requests them to respond. By using the officers on a rotating on-call basis, Lunceford said the county could have full-time coverage for a fraction of the costs of having to hire full-time animal control officers.
In addition to answering calls in the county, Lunceford said the animal control officers would also respond to calls for service in the City of Elizabethton after an Elizabethton Police Department officer has responded to the call and requested animal control to be called.
“The Elizabethton officers have the authority to enforce city ordinance, we do not,” Lunceford said.
Commissioner Willie Campbell asked if the animal control officers would respond to calls within the city would the City of Elizabethton share in the cost of the program. Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey responded by saying the County has a signed agreement with the City of Elizabethton that the city will pay half of the costs to operate the animal shelter.
The largest portion of the funding approved Monday night will be for the purchase of a truck for use by the animal control officers and the startup equipment. After this initial set up, Lunceford said the only annual cost would be for the $500 monthly stipend paid to the officers.
Lunceford said if the funding is approved he is hoping to start the program by April 1, barring any delays in obtaining the vehicle and getting the officers selected and trained.
Posada explained the types of situations that she and other shelter staff have encountered when they respond to an animal control call.
“These calls send us into homes that are drug related at all hours of the day and all hours of the night,” Posada said. “We’ve been into places we’ve had to have Haz Mat crews come to get the animals out.”
“It’s just not safe out there for us,” she added.
Some members of the Commission asked whether the Sheriff’s plan had been presented to the Animal Shelter Advisory Board.
Mike Barnett, Chairman of the Animal Shelter Advisory Board, was in attendance at Monday’s meeting and he shared the Board’s stance on the proposal with the Commission.
“We’ve had this discussion over a period of time that we are concerned with the safety of our staff,” Barnett said, adding staff safety has always been a “heavy burden” but funding was not available for animal control. “We do believe this is a good solution to get us started being better overseers of these animals.”
Earlier in the Commission meeting, Commissioner Larry ‘Doc’ Miller spoke about getting a School Resource Officer at Little Milligan Elementary, saying he had been told funding was not available to put an officer at the school. During the discussion on the animal control funding, Miller questioned spending the county’s money for the proposal.
“We ought to think more of human lives than we do of cats and dogs,” Miller said. “We can give money to the cats and dogs but that issue before we can’t give any money to?”
Other Commissioners questioned the liability the county faced in allowing animal shelter employees, who are not sworn officers, respond to people’s homes on animal control calls.
When the matter came to a vote, it approved by a margin of 16-6. Those voting in favor of the proposal were: Buford Peters, Nancy Brown, Al Meehan, Bradley Johnson, Ronnie Trivett, Charles VonCannon, Isaiah Grindstaff, L. C. Tester, Danny Ward, Ross Garland, Timothy Holdren, Randall Jenkins, Sonja Culler, Ray Lyons, Kelly Collins, and Cody McQueen. Those voting against the proposal were: Willie Campbell, Dr. Robert Acuff, Mike Hill, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz, John Lewis, and Larry ‘Doc’ Miller.

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