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Carter County Budget Committee… Shelter appears before committee requesting $60,000 be returned to budget

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
Making one final last-ditch effort to salvage animal control and two employees jobs, the center of Monday night’s Carter County Budget Committee meeting was a request for $60,000 that had been turned in from the 2020-2021 budget be returned to the Elizabethton-Carter County Animal Shelter’s budget for 2021-2022.

Dr. Robert Acuff, Commissioner and animal shelter board member, addressed the budget committee asking for the $60,000 that Shelter Director Shannon Posado had returned from the 2020-2021 budget be placed back into the animal shelter budget so the shelter could continue with its services into 2021-2022 without having to dismiss any employees.

“As you remember from last month’s commission meeting, there was a motion made from the floor to ask our good stewards the animal shelter to retain up to at least $60,000 moving forward into this budget year,” Dr. Acuff stated. “Director Burke said that could be funded until the books are closed out on the previous budget year.

“We are back following procedure hopefully this time asking you to consider you to give us back $60,000 of that money that would be returned to the general fund for the animal shelter.

“He (Burke) suggested that we go with the figure $421,400 and in doing so we not only cut out animal control but we also lose up to two full-time employees when we go with that figure,” continued Dr. Acuff. “That is included any projections of donation and fees, etc. and we may not make it then.

“We cut that many people from the shelter, we will also have to consider reducing services. We have already stopped animal control services to the county and the city.

“To help us make the budget this year and get us through until the 501c3 becomes operable we would ask that you would consider the $60,000 or something less. I think it’s terrible when you penalize a department for being a good steward of their money and when they actually need it, not coming forward saying yeah you can have part of the funds to meet your budget and your needs.”

The excess money had been saved by Posada and the shelter due to readjusting hours due to the COVID pandemic, food contributed to the shelter when people received their stimulus checks, savings from getting a heating unit fixed, and taking advantage of free spay and neutering in Asheville.

After some discussion, the committee made three motions that all failed to pass and be moved to the full commission.

The first motion brought forth by Commissioner Travis Hill was to give the animal shelter $51,000 from the unassigned fund balance. Committee members vote on the motion with the result being four nays, three yes, and one abstaining.

Voting yes were Commissioners Willie Campbell, Ross Garland, and Travis Hill with Commissioners Julie Guinn, Charles Von Cannon, Aaron Frazier, and Austin Jaynes casting no votes. Robin McKamey elected to abstain.

After taking a break, the committee returned and during the discussion, Frazier said, “For me, it’s coming down to where do we draw a line on funding something like this outright because it’s approaching part of the cost of the health department which is responsible for the entire health of the county.

“It is a magnitude greater than what we spend on CTE programs at our high schools and a lot of cases our other educational programs. Things that can get kids jobs and create jobs here in the county. It’s not about the animals or them being cared for. We are unfortunately a government entity and we have to be responsible stewards and take into consideration that funding is going out to each and every department.

“That is the reason that I initially made the motion that the animal shelter move to a 501c3,” continued Frazier. “This is not a problem that government can solve and it never will be. 90 percent of every conflict that comes out of this county commission since the inception of this joint program with the city – 90 percent of all the arguments between the city and county and I would even hazard to say even 95 percent have all come from the animal shelter.”

“Is that not a problem? Doesn’t everyone else not see a problem there that every year that you are arguing over what it should be?”

Frazier then made a motion after making a few more comments that the county matches the city dollar for dollar up to $36,000. When the vote was taken only Jaynes and Frazier voted yes with McKamey once again abstaining from the vote.

With time running quickly escaping the meeting, Jaynes opened the floor to entertain one last motion before closing the discussion on the animal shelter down.

Hill made one final attempt by making a motion that the county give $46,000 out of their unassigned fund balance and the city contributed a total of $25,000.

City Manager Daniel Estes was present and asked if he thought that the City could make that motion work if passed.

Estes responded that he would find the additional $5,000 in the city budget if the motion was approved.

When the initial vote was taken on the third and final proposal, Campbell, Jaynes, Garland, and Hill voted yes while Guinn, Von Cannon, and Frazier voting no with McKamey once again abstaining making it a 4-3 yes vote in favor of the motion.

County Attorney Josh Hardin questioned McKamey if the abstention was for cause.

Hardin advised that to abstain had to be for cause for a conflict and from what he had heard it wasn’t a conflict, but just a preference to abstain and that’s a big difference legally.

“You can look at it a lot of different ways,” McKamey said. “Every time I vote, I get slammed that way and I vote another way, I get slammed that way.”

After the discussion ended, McKamey cast the no vote that brought a tie meaning the motion failed.

Commissioner Sonja Culler who was sitting in the gallery asked Hardin if McKamey shouldn’t have been told that on the first vote. However, with the first vote, the motion would have been still defeated as it was four no’s to three yea votes on the initial vote.

County resident Tim Vines made a statement while the issue was being addressed saying, “While the county and the city fight amongst each other, who is going to pay what – we are paying this and why ain’t they paying. We have been hearing this for months now. So, that is all well and good and that is between the county and the city, but the fact is it is hurting the shelter we have now and is hurting our ability to take care of the animals and to take in new animals.

“We don’t have animal control right now and I have been to all these meetings and of all the budgets and all the requirements, it always seems to come up with the animal shelter. I personally don’t understand that.

“I told you I wouldn’t ask questions but I will ask one – I would like to know what the real issue is here because I don’t believe it has anything to do with money. That’s my opinion.”

The committee did vote to pass through to full commission a motion to give $25,000 to both the Stoney Creek and Hampton Volunteer Fire Department to help them in their building projects of new fire halls.

Commissioners Mark Blevins and Gary Bailey along with Stoney Creek Fire Captain Benny Lyons requested the money for the departments.

Chris Faircloth, Client Services Manager, with Mission Critical appeared before the committee and shared information in regard to the current issue surrounding communications in the county to open the night’s meeting sharing how his company could aid the county in regard to its communication needs.