Budget Committee discusses animal control, pay raises

Sheriff Dexter Lunceford and Animal Shelter Director Shannon Posada came before the county Budget Committee Monday evening to propose moving all of the Sheriff’s Department’s funding for Animal Control Services to the shelter’s budget.

Lunceford said the total funding is roughly $30,000, previously sitting in Lunceford’s budget to give out as overtime pay to his regular employees and officers.

“This has nothing to do with the duties,” Lunceford said.

Despite Lunceford’s assertion, the committee had questions about who in the Animal Shelter would take over those duties. For starters, Posada told the committee, upon commission approval, the shelter would not be able to formally take up those responsibilities for the following 30 days.

“This has not gone through the Animal Shelter yet,” Kelly Collins said.

Chairman Ross Garland said Lunceford brought this to the table to begin the discussion about what transferring those funds would look like. Lunceford said the transfer “plays into” the Law Enforcement Committee’s new research project about new animal control ordinances.

He said his officers are ill-equipped to handle the more serious animal calls they have to process.

“Animal control should be done by animal professionals,” he said.

When commissioners expressed concern about leaving the job duties of animal control being in limbo until Posada could take them on, Lunceford said nothing about the county’s situation would change.

“We have been in limbo until about two years ago,” Lunceford said. “I did it because I wanted to help.”

He further said state law does not require his department to handle animal control as it is.

Ultimately, the discussion ended with an assertion the Animal Control Board meeting this week would have a thorough discussion on the matter. The committee tables the discussion to their March meeting.

Veterans Service Officer David Batchelder brought a proposal to the committee for a salary increase.

“I think Sullivan County contacted him,” Garland said. “I am aware he has applied.”

The salary increase request of several thousand dollars comes only a few months away from the 2020 budget season, a fact that made some commissioners uncomfortable with the prospect.

“I would feel more comfortable if it was in the actual budget process,” Travis Hill said.

Austin Jaynes, filling in for Isaiah Grindstaff, said approving it could cause a domino effect. Approving a salary increase because an employee is threatening to leave, he said, could set a uncomfortable precedent.

“The compensation study is not going to be for this year anyway,” Jaynes said.

Patty Woodby vouched for Batchelder, saying his qualifications and the hard work he has done for Carter County made approving the motion worth it. She also said the job in Sullivan County opens in April, meaning waiting until the budget process means potentially losing him.

Ultimately, the committee compromised to approve $1,615.85 for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on June 31. Budget will then entertain conversations to approve a full salary increase per his request during the normal budget process.

In smaller votes, the committee voted unanimously to approve up to $2,000 for the separation of Rules and Bylaws, Health and Welfare, Buildings and Grounds and Law Enforcement Committees into two days instead of just one. The committee also unanimously voted to approve an increase in the funding needed to purchase a new vehicle for the county coroner. Woodby said the initial estimate they voted on last month, $32,000, was for the wrong vehicle. The new amount is $35,765.55.

The committee also discussed the $468,000 Carter County plans to receive from Governor Bill Lee’s proposed budget. Travis Hill said the funding could be used to update the county’s emergency communication systems, though details on what those upgrades would look like are still pending.

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