It was a tough sale… Budget Committee approves animal shelter budget

Published 3:03 pm Tuesday, June 15, 2021

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
While there were several items on the Carter County Budget Committee’s agenda, the topic that endured the longest discussion and debate in the four and a half-hour meeting was an hour-long discussion on whether to approve the 2021-2022 Animal Shelter budget to send to the full commission.

Animal Shelter Director Shannon Posada was charged with bringing back an updated budget in an attempt to eliminate a little over $80,000 from her previously submitted budget after meeting with the animal shelter board.

Posada advised the committee of the elimination of a request to purchase a $27,000 truck for the shelter to use with the already dedicated truck being used by animal control employee Darren Lacy as the shelter board agreed to spend $1,000 to buy a vehicle with over 160,000 miles from the Carter County Highway Department.

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Also, Posado stated that City Manager Daniel Estes of the City of Elizabethton stated that he didn’t see why the city couldn’t help by picking up the part-time animal control employee for $17,000 which left $38,000 which would be covered by the $38,000 line item listed for the Sheriff’s Department for animal control.

The budget also included a four percent pay increase for the animal shelter employees.

Several committee members along with some other Commissioners present for the meeting began to voice their opinion on the budget.

“Mr. Chairman, I believe in a special called meeting that we had actually voted 20-4 for us to send this to the city and I know there is some talk of going to MTAS and CTAS and all that but the motion was sent to the city, that means the City Council,” said County Commissioner Gary Bailey. “We voted and it passed 20-4 to send it to the city and not the animal board for their vote but to the city.

“And that motion was for us to put in $225,000 this year so I am just going to put it right here – there are 10 of us sitting here who voted for it so where does it stop.

“If we don’t go to the 501 now, I don’t see it ever happening.

“We voted to send it to the city and go to the 501 and I have the minutes right here that every one of you have got,” Bailey continued. “Curt Alexander (Mayor of Elizabethton) in the thing plainly says he wants to go to the city council and present to them the will of the commission.

“I have that in black and white and highlighted but then they come up on TV and in the paper and say, “Well, I don’t know what the county commission wants – nobody has contacted us”.

Committee member Aaron Frazier asked what the people’s general beef was with going to a 501 c3 as he had seen some signs that said to vote no on the 501c3 to save the animal shelter.

“The county and the city are not going to not fund what isn’t going to be fundraised or found through grants,” said Frazier. “What it is is that it does allow people to make donations and actually have it come off their taxes rather than just pouring into a black hole.”

Posada answered by telling the committee that the people that come in and talk to her is that they are having a hard time just making a living week-to-week now.

“We don’t have the support in Carter County that Washington County does,” Posada stated. “She (director of Washington County animal shelter) told everyone that was listening on the zoom meeting that they had never applied for grants – they have just now gotten an ETSU professor to write grants for them.

“They have car lots that support them and a whole lot more businesses there. People will come to the shelter and bring cat food or dog food but they are not a lot of big-dollar donors out there.”

Posada advised in fundraisers already conducted that they may have raised $300 or $600 and if lucky possibly $800. COVID has also played a major impact in how people can give.

“There needs to be some more discussion about the 501c3 rather than saying hey this is how it is – it needs to be organized,” Posada adding that there needs to be a board to discuss how to go forward.

“Mr. Chairman, until the city votes to do that, there is not going to be a board that’s the problem,” Bailey stated. “The vote was to send it to the city.”

Posada interjected that there needs to be a joint operation between the city and the county on how to go forward with this.

There was some discussion that the city was invited to attend the special called meeting in regard to the 501c3 to which Posada said there was suppose to be another meeting after the specially called meeting.

“There has never been an exception where everybody can sit down and say we are from the county and we are from the city, let’s make a decision going forward,” Posada commented.

“Just on that note, because one thing I can tell you that the city has been reached out to many times about having conversations and that has been under several prior administrations so things change but we have asked several times and that’s about anything,” said Committee member Isaiah Grindstaff.

“There are so many of us and so few of them and they don’t feel that is equal so that’s when we have a joint board we pair ourselves down for our representatives.

“My problem is how do you get the money that you all need but you don’t have to keep coming to the county and to the city and try to figure out how to make these decisions and run the animal shelter because I don’t think any of us here want to see the animal shelter fail,” Grindstaff continued.

“I would never vote to take away funding from the animal shelter at all however my ultimate goal is that I would like to see you all become an outside agency and request funding and us provide funding to you and allow you to run the animal shelter which is what you are good at – that is where your heart is.”

Posada responded to Grindstaff that if a meeting was called and ask the city to come, that if he explained it just like he did, that there wouldn’t be a problem whatsoever saying, “Hey that’s a goal we want to work for”.

“You think that I am happy coming up here and asking for taxpayers’ dollars,” asked Posada. “If I saw I could get by, I wouldn’t even ask for the money.”

Committee member Travis Hill also wanted to try to clear the air of bad information that had been floating around stating that the Commission had voted to give a minimum of $225,000 and the city gives $125,000 which would equal out to $350,000 for the animal shelter.

“There is a lot of bad information floating around that no one seems to want to put an end to and it’s constant saying, “We can’t raise $300,000, we can’t raise $400,000,” said Hill. “That’s never been an issue. The bad information that has been floating around is what has been keeping the citizens stirred up and it causes us to get phone calls and gets us stirred up.

“I agree with Isaiah, I would never vote to cut the animal shelter because I think we need it because that’s not my specialty, but there has to be a point where enough is enough.”

Bailey asked Finance Director Brad Burke what the budget for the rescue squad was and continued by saying, ” It’s nothing against the animal shelter or anybody else but this budget I’m thinking is going to be bigger than the rescue squad and I don’t mean that bad.

“It’s just we are talking about people that take care of our mom’s and dad’s and our grandparents who go down the road and have a stroke or a wreck. It’s not the animal shelter- it’s not that. We voted in a special called session and no more than two months later come back with an increase and still nothing from the city.

“If we give what’s asked, and this is just an opinion, if I was the city I would say no to. I’d give you exactly what I do to because if nobody else is going to pay for it, why should I. The video, whether some people in here likes it or not, whether they liked the man or not, where Mayor Humphrey went to the city council and asked for more money from the city and he was told no,” Bailey continued.

“If the city is going to keep saying no, why should we be the one to fund it.”

The question was then brought forth concerning the vote whether the $225,000 went into effect this upcoming budget session or if there was a time frame of 16 months to come up with the solution.

“I stand firm on my 501c3 vote – I did vote for that but I was under the assumption that 16 months was for FY2023 budget it was $225,000,” stated Hill.

“I put it in this budget because we all come up for election,” responded Bailey. “It was for this year’s budget. It’s in the minutes.”

Dr. Robert Acuff, a Carter County Commissioner and animal shelter board member, shared that the 16 months that was voted on would be needed to address such issues as how to handle the employees at the animal shelter in regard to their employment since a 501c3 would mean they wouldn’t be a part of the county payroll and receive benefits or time worked per county attorney Josh Hardin.

Committee member Robin McKamey said the problem with the budget could be resolved by creating and enforcing current laws to prevent a lot of problems the animal shelter has to respond to thus helping to reduce the budget needs of the animal shelter.

After all comments ceased, the vote to approve a total animal shelter budget of $492,603.88 which was all-inclusive passed by a 6-2 margin with Willie Campbell and McKamey voting no. The budget will be sent to the full commission on Monday, July 21st.

In other business, Captain Thomas Smith approached the committee about retaining/carrying over unspent appropriations in salary and payroll benefit line items in the Sheriff’s Department and Jail major categories as of June 30, 2021, with the hopes of using some of the money to help in the implementation of a recruitment and retention program.

Smith said that the jail is about 25 jailers short of where they need to be and it has been hard to compete with others businesses that are also in need of help.

The preliminary plan is a projected recruitment bonus of $2,200 with $1,000 for the first quarter completed and $500 for every quarter thereafter.

Smith said it has been hard to get people to apply for the position.

Also, Tim Ross representing the Assistance and Resource Ministry (ARM) returned with information the committee had requested seeking funds to purchase a freezer for the ministry to place cold items in for distribution.

Ross advised that they average serving between 700 to 800 families per month with food with a large increase coming from COVID.

Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joy McCray shared in discussion with the committee regarding hotel/motel tax collections and distributions.

McCray advised the committee that new events such as Music and Miles along with the second year of the Carter County Omnium continue to draw people to the county along with the digital promotion of the county which has brought several people back to the county after visiting in 2020 due to vacation destination restrictions due to COVID and the social distancing provided by the county.

Commissioner Frazier shared that he and McCray had a good meeting sharing ideas including possibly creating an in-house Economic Developer position to provide a service to the county.

McCray advised she is opened to all ideas but also must answer to the Chamber Board of Directors to make sure that all possible ventures benefit the county businesses as a whole.

Mayor Patty Woodby approached the committee on behalf of Circuit Court Clerk Johnny Blankenship who was asking for incentive payments for employees who obtain certain work-related certifications.

The committee discussed and agreed to do $2,500 for the completion of approved certifications to stay in line with what the planning department had recently implemented.

Highway Department Superintendent Roger Colbaugh also requested $132,136.52 for two new dump trucks to use for snow removal but agreed to keep the amount before the committee until getting closer to when the trucks would be needed in the winter.

The committee voted unanimously on several budget amendments to help clean up items for year-end.

The July budget hearing will be on July 19th at 5 pm.