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More than a dozen animal advocates attended Wilson County commissioners’ monthly meeting Monday night and voiced their concerns on a host of issues, including the intent of the county’s animal privilege fees, the need for a new shelter and the county’s animal enforcement code.
In 2009, commissioners voted to assess pet owners a yearly animal registration fee. During the meeting where the fees were approved, then-Sheriff Wayne Gay told commissioners that the fee would be “applied toward a new shelter and improvements in the animal control program,” according to minutes from the 2008 meeting. But animal advocates contend it was their understanding that the entirety of the fees collected would and should go toward building a new shelter.
“Almost a decade ago, when the board at that time passed the animal fee, all of us in the audience understand what Sheriff Gay proposed at the time, that the animal fee was to be used to go into a new shelter,” Max Fitz-Gerald, co-founder of For the Love of Dogs, said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “Once the new shelter was built, the fees would then go to support the operations of animal control. That was the understanding at the time that the fees were passed.”
Fitz-Gerald told commissioners that the fees have been used to run Wilson County Animal Enforcement instead.
“That was not opposed to in the original decision that was made, but the shelter was to be built first, then the fees were to still be collected,” he said, adding that commissioners could have built an animal shelter seven or eight years ago if that had happened.
ANIMAL CONTROL BUDGET
Prior to Fitz-Gerald speaking, Commissioner Chris Hill addressed another resident’s questions regarding animal fees. Hill said while he wasn’t on the board at that time, it was his understanding that Gay had asked where the fees would be allocated.
“He stated to a new animal shelter and improved animal control services,” Hill said.
Hill said at the Animal Enforcement budget was then around $357,000, and now it’s just over $600,000.
He said the county is collecting an average of $120,000 in animal fees a year. Hill also mentioned that commissioners have been setting aside at least $70,000 for the last three years in a capital reserve fund for the new animal shelter. Right now, the county has roughly $330,000 in that fund, he said.
Resident Steve Uhas said he’s been involved from the beginning when the animal privilege fees were discussed.
“That fee was to be put in place to provide for a new animal shelter,” Uhas told commissioners. “The fact that additional money was needed or was spent for animal control is irrelevant. “Without that fee, you would have still needed to get that money to take care of animal control services, right?”
‘GO AHEAD AND BUILD THE SHELTER’
Larraine Mandeville, one of the first animal control officers for Wilson County, said she was one of the first people hired to work at the animal shelter back in 1979.
“Within months of opening, we began having problems at the shelter,” the 72-year-old told commissioners. She clarified reports that the animal shelter was built near a landfill.
“It was not,” she said. “It was built on a container site for leaves that were brought in from the city. So over the years, and beginning with the first (year), as the leaves decomposed, we started getting cracks in the shelter. The only thing that amazes me is that the building has not been or should have been condemned years ago.”
Mandeville said she’s not faulting Sheriff Calvin Woodard either.
“Because God bless him, he just has to work with what he’s given just like I did,” she said.
Mandeville told commissioners it’s time for a new shelter.
“The people of Wilson County, we’ve put up with it and we’ve put up with it, and we took what we’ve been given, but Wilson County deserves better than this. The buck stops here. Let’s turn over a new leaf. Go ahead and build the shelter.”
Board of Commissioners Chairman Rob Boyette said he thought Monday night’s meeting went well. He said people who care about animals and animal enforcement shared their concerns with commissioners and discussed what they’d like to see happen.
He said now is the time to move forward.
“Clearly it’s our intent to build the animal shelter,” he said Tuesday.
Boyette said the county’s animal enforcement committee is slated to meet within the next month where members will receive an update on where they are in regards to the shelter, including Woodard presenting information to the committee.
Boyette said commissioners already have conceptional drawings regarding what a potential animal shelter would look like.
He said as they go through everything with the animal control committee and develop the budget and projected revenues, they will have a better picture on the timeline and cost projections.
“I believe the board as a whole is interested in moving on this,” Boyette said.