City Council disappointed with county’s animal shelter agreement

Published 10:09 pm Monday, November 15, 2021

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The Elizabethton City Council on Friday rejected a proposed animal shelter operating agreement with the Carter County Commission.

The proposal was approved by the Commission on Oct. 18 and reviewed by the council during a workshop conducted Friday.

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“There wasn’t much at all that any of us approved or liked about it,” said City Councilman and animal shelter board member Michael Simerly. “The biggest rub was that the County Commission with their attorney wrote the contract up and voted on it and passed it even without any of us seeing it or even sharing anything with us.”

The terms of the agreement voted on by the county that appear to be drawing the most attention are:
– A 60-40 split in funding for the animal shelter with the county contributing 60 percent and the city 40 percent.
– A 50-50 ownership of the animal shelter property which is currently owned by the city.
– A two-year term for the agreement which currently has no term associated.
– Membership on the animal shelter board. The county is seeking to have three commissioners and only two councilmen while the city is seeking equal representation.

One of the major sticking points in the agreement according to Simerly was the county requesting a 50/50 ownership of the property that houses the animal shelter, which is now owned by the city.

“The animal shelter is adjacent to the water treatment plant and if we get any growth at all in the city, we are going to have to add to the water treatment plant,” Simerly stated. “We are not really wanting to give away any property there and in the future, there is a possibility that the animal shelter might even have to be relocated … because it would be cheaper to move the animal shelter than move the water treatment plant.

“We can’t give taxpayer-paid property away to the county.”

First District Commissioner Dr. Robert Acuff who also sits on the animal shelter board said, the commission is trying to take advantage of council and city residents.

“I think City Manager (Daniel) Estes had several good points and I don’t think the land and building issue/swap is likely to occur and the timing doesn’t have to be January 1,” Acuff said. “Why don’t we (design a new shelter board by mutual agreement) in the next fiscal cycle?”

Acuff said the council also should be comprised of three city representatives and three county representatives with the chair chosen from the community at large. “Giving the commission a potential of always a 3-2 advantage is not a partnership,” he said.

Acuff was absent for the commission vote on the agreement but said he would have voted “No” on approving the agreement since the council never saw the document beforehand. “(It’s) not much of a way to treat a ‘partner’,” he said.

“The bottom line is that there needs to be meaningful dialogue between both bodies regarding the shelter and it still appears to me that the commission doesn’t want to do that nor do they want a meaningful partnership with the city,” Acuff added.

Going forward, Simerly said the city will draft changes to the agreement and send it back to the commission to consider.

“We are going to methodically work through it, make adjustments, and send it back to them and let them work on it if they don’t agree with it,” Simerly stated. “But that is what an agreement is – working back and forth.”

Carter County Mayor Patty Woodby added work will continue to develop the agreement. “When negotiating any contract, there is always a lot of work to be done to reach a middle ground which both sides can agree on. We will continue to work with City leaders to find that middle ground and reach an agreement that allows us to continue working together to provide the Animal Shelter and its services for our residents. The Shelter will operate under the existing contract until a new contract is approved by both the County Commission and City Council.”