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“A sad day in Carter County”… Animal Shelter board wades through options after budget cut

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
The Elizabethton-Carter County Animal Shelter Board met in a special called session on Tuesday evening to discuss how to handle their budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022 after the Carter County Commission cut roughly $70,000 out of their budget – the only budget cut discussed during the full commission vote on the budget.

One of the first actions that residents will notice immediately is that animal control services will cease in both the county and city beginning Wednesday, July 28th with the hopes that the City will have service restored by September upon approval of $20,000 during the City Council’s August meeting to provide the service for city residents only while it is unknown if and when animal control will resume in the county.

Shelter Director Shannon Posada presented three options to the board for consideration after reviewing every line item in her budget and making cuts as much as she could after presenting to the budget committee and commission the lowest budget she has had in the last three years.

“The thing that I hate the most about this budget and I have fought, fought, fought in every way possible – I had already cut this budget and we had the lowest budget in the past three years,” said Posada.

“When we redid our HVAC, we cut our electricity and our propane and that is where we kept saving money. Through COVID, we cut money from the free spays and neuters where our staff was there at 5:30 am and they took them to Asheville and that’s how we saved the taxpayer’s money.
From that, we still get a budget cut, and the worst part for me was walking in and telling my staff, “I’m sorry, but somebody doesn’t have a job.

“I have people that want to come to work who come to work every day even in COVID and this county commission decided for us that somebody is not going to have a job,” Posada continued

“There is no way unless you all rework this budget that we can have a working budget to keep all employees like they was and I welcome anybody to look over this and make it work. It’s just not possible.”

In the Carter County Commission’s public hearing and vote on the budget presented by the budget committee to the commissioners for consideration, the Commission voted to cut the budget by $70,000 as well as vote in an 11-11 tie to not give the animal shelter back $60,000 from the 2020-2021 budget that Posada had turned back in from savings enacted during that time frame.

Posada said that prior to a vote, Commissioner Gary Bailey passed out a paper showing his recommendations that included the $60,000 be part of the funds to be used for the new budget.

However, during the special called meeting Posada said nothing was even mentioned about Bailey’s recommendation.

“I believe that in this paper it says an estimated unused $60,000 in these figures,’ the Director stated. “Did anyone hear this number mentioned at the budget meeting at this table?

“Did anybody hear this number mentioned in the commission meeting for us to retain this money? It was passed out but was never mentioned when the dollar value was voted on.”

Dr. Robert Acuff also addressed the issue surrounding the $60,000 saying, “At the commission meeting, this budget was discussed and as a matter of fact, it was the only budget that was discussed of all the budgets, and close to the end, Commissioner Culler made a motion to retain the $60,000 from last year’s budget that Shannon would be turning into the general fund.

“We voted on that return of the $60,000 to the shelter and we lost that by an 11-11 tie. I have been told by Brad Burke until he closes the books on last year that those monies are still available.

“We could, as a shelter board, ask to go forward and ask the budget committee since that was apparently the snafu that we hadn’t been through the budget that we retain those $60,000. It would have to be approved by the budget committee to go before the full commission.”

Dr. Acuff digressed further into the $60,000 question by stating, ” We know that and I assume its public information but apparently with the positions down at the sheriff’s department, where they are down 28 positions, there was a surplus of salary lines probably around $600,000 and the sheriff chose to give a $1,000 bonus to full-time employees and $300 bonus to part-time employees.

“When Shannon questioned Mr. Burke on that, he said that was in the salary line and he could do that. We are not setting precedent by asking to do this. The $60,000 would help us make up that deficit but I think that we definitely need to be prepared to come out with a budget but also ask the budget committee and the commission to roll those funds back into the animal shelter.”

What is at stake is whether the county will have animal control and how many employees may be losing their job if the $60,000 cannot be returned back to the animal shelter.

The two options that ultimately got the most look was Option 1 in which if the $60,000 can be returned back to the animal shelter, Posada felt like she could make the budget work to keep animal control for the county.

However, if the budget committee votes against letting the full commission consider returning the $60,000 or if the budget committee passes the motion forward to the committee to vote on and it is defeated in full commission, that option will no longer work.

The Animal Shelter Board then voted on Option 2 which would allow the animal shelter to maintain four full-time employees, four part-time employees, and the Director while having to dismiss one full-time employee.

This option also will place the county in a position of having no animal control while the City of Elizabethton has stipulated that their $20,000 will be used for animal control in the city only as according to Councilman Michael Simerly that the service was needed in the city.

“I would be more than willing to go to the budget committee to lobby to keep the extra $60,000 if that would help to keep an employee,” said Carter County Commissioner Sonja Culler. “To think that we are going to give the county back $60,000 and we are going to lose an employee- there’s something wrong with that.

“If we go to the budget committee and make a spill to the budget committee that you are telling us to fire somebody – let us keep the $60,000 then they would have to bring it to the commission.”

Carter County Commissioner Kelly Collins echoed Commissioner Culler’s sentiments stating, “The budget committee passed the budget but when it went to the commission several people that voted for the budget turned around and voted against it in full commission and that needs to be noted and exactly who it was that voted for it during budget but then voted against it and then I guess it needs to be checked who voted against the $60,000 as well.

“It makes me physically sick that we may have to lose an employee when we made it through the whole pandemic without laying anybody off in Carter County or losing no one in the county as no one lost their job but we are still giving $12,000 to a, I don’t even know what you call it, an animal shelter in the city or rescue.

“It’s a very sad day in Carter County. I am very disappointed in a lot of commissioners.”

Dr. Acuff then responded he had the vote count for those commissioners who had voted no on allowing the animal shelter to keep the $60,000.

“I have the vote here if you want to hear it as on the vote to not return the $60,000 to the shelter. The no votes on that were Willie Campbell, Mark Blevins, Nancy Brown, Julie Guinn, Brad Johnson, Mark Tester, Charles VonCannon, Gary Bailey, Daniel McInturff, Aaron Frazier, and Robin McKamey.

“The commission gave $12,000 to Robin McKamey’s rescue organization called Appalachian Tails. She voted to cut every single time.”

Upon hearing Dr. Acuff’s response about the donation to McKamey’s organization, City Councilman Wes Frazier asked how McKamey could receive funds since she was a commissioner.

“Why is that not a conflict of interest?” Frazier questioned to which Commissioner Collins responded, “We were told by our attorney that it was not. To me, it’s a morally incorrect thing to do.”

Also brought into question was the $38,000 line item in the Sheriff’s Department budget that was designated for animal control and was used when the position was created just a few months ago.

“Didn’t somebody ask Brad (Burke) Monday night that the money that was in the county sheriff’s department budget that he (Sheriff Lunceford) bought new vehicles with that money that was allotted to the animal shelter for animal control?” questioned Frazier.

Posada responded by saying, “If I am not mistaken didn’t the sheriff say that he bought a new cruiser with it”

“So that was money that was for animal control so it should have gone back to the shelter, shouldn’t it?” responded Frazier.

” Here is the issue that I have with this – (Sheriff) Lunceford plainly told us in that meeting sitting behind us that he was not doing animal control,” Posada stated emphatically. “His officers can respond to a scene such as that bite last night, but who is going to transport that animal. Who is going to take it to the animal shelter? Who is going to transport an animal if there is no one there to do it?”

The bite Posada was referring to involved a young boy in the Roan Mountain area. She shared the event with the board.

“Let me give you an instance that happened last night. I get a phone call that they need an animal control officer at a location. I get there and there is a pit bull that has bit a kid in the face. No officer was present. The lady was irate and almost had a real fight between two neighbors – the owner of the dog and the neighbor whose kid got bit,” Posada said.

“So I advised her that she needed to get back on the phone and dial 911 and that an officer needed to be there. The dog had already bitten four people before it bit this kid in the face.”

Posada made her feelings know about how hard the battle was in getting an animal control officer in place to handle such events as this one incident.

“We went through this animal control discussion and beat it to death for three or four months and then you get to a meeting that seems like they enjoy eating me up and spitting me out for shark bait and I don’t care, but these people come up here and there were people that stood right there up there at the podium that spoke and you had commissioners laughing at them and rolling their eyes at them,” Posada commented.

“That is how much they care about what is happening out here in the county.

“If they had seen that little boy last night that had been bit in the face by this pit bull, if it was their kid it would probably make a difference to them but since it ‘ain’t my youngun, I don’t care’.

“That’s the mentality this commission has got. Until they start caring about our community and caring about the people in this community and what’s going on with our elderly, our kids, and our homeless we aren’t going anywhere other than where we are right now.,” continued Posada.

“Somebody (commissioners) tell me what you have done in the last four years that you are proud of besides arguing over the animal shelter. This really upsets me how this commission has beaten this animal shelter to death.

“We have already had a little girl for reconstructive facial surgery for this, we have had a little boy bitten in the testicles, and keep in mind that neither one of those two cases were charged. There comes a time when enough is enough.”

Animal Shelter Chairman Mike Barnett who was absent from the meeting due to a scheduled vacation called in for the meeting but didn’t have a vote in the meeting due to not being present along with Mayor Curt Alexander who was also out of town but called in as well, added his personal thoughts since he had been working diligently with the animal shelter for many, many years.

“I have been involved with the animal shelter for many, many years and what the commission is doing to this shelter is setting us back 30 years in animal welfare,” Barnett stated.

“What the commission is making this board do is appalling to me with disregard not only for the progress that this board and especially the shelter people have made in taking care of the animals at the shelter and keeping the animals Parvo-free and all this other kind of stuff, basically what they are doing is putting us back in Neanderthal times and I hope and pray that the community realizes that.”