Carter Commission approves funding increase for animal shelter

John Thompson • Nov 21, 2016 at 10:28 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Carter County commissioners fought like cats and dogs Monday night, but narrowly approved a $165,000 funding increase for the Carter County Animal Shelter that will keep it afloat financially until the next fiscal year. The vote was 14-9, with one abstention.

The approval came after the commission failed to pass the first motion to fund the shelter. That vote was 12-11 for the funding increase, with one abstention. It takes 13 votes for a motion to pass.

The version that passed came after a short recess, and it was part of a motion made by Commissioner L.C. Tester to fund the measure for this year, but to begin budget hearings for the next fiscal year with the shelter funding back at its original level.

The funding was approved despite its defeat last week in the Budget Committee. For Monday’s vote, the question was placed ahead of the time during the meeting when committees deliver their reports. Commissioner Al Meehan rose to make a point of order about the matter being decided before the Budget Committee report.  

Meehan’s point of order received 15 votes to only 9 against it, but Mayor Leon Humphrey said a point of order required a two-thirds majority to be approved.

On another procedural matter, commissioner Buford Peters contended that Humphrey, who is also chairman of the commission, should vacate the chair when he is speaking in favor of a matter being considered. 

“He has got up there and expressed his opinion. He has refused to vacate the chair when he did so. That is against our rules of order,” Peters said during a recess in the meeting.

The budget increase for the shelter had been considered by the commission last month, but it failed to pass. As a stopgap, the commission voted to increase the shelter’s budget by $30,000 to pay the expenses for the rest of October and the portion of November before Monday’s meeting.

Part of the reason the increase failed to pass last month was because of concerns the city might not pay for half the increased costs of the shelter.

Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander addressed the commission to assure them.

“We will fulfill our obligation to pay 50 percent of the costs,” Alexander said. 

The mayor said there was concern when there was a request for a 79 percent increase in the budget of the shelter but said “we understand it was severely underfunded.”

Alexander said the city may request a change in the amount of the cost the city shares with the county in the future. He said there were only 14,000 residents in Elizabethton while the county’s population is about 60,000. Alexander said another factor is that the city residents also pay county taxes, so they are essentially being taxed twice to fund the shelter.

The commissioners spent over an hour debating the matter. Commissioner Mike Hill compared the cost of running the county’s shelter in comparison with the Avery County, N.C., shelter. He said the total Carter County Animal Shelter budget will be $404,000.

He said Avery County’s shelter had a $625,000 budget, with only $20,000 coming from county funding. Commissioner Charles Von Cannon said the Avery shelter got $286,000 in funding from the state.

Hill also said the annual amount of funding for the shelter would amount to a funding per dog and cat of only $400 less per year than it spends on each student in a county school. During a recess, he said those were conservative figures using a capacity of 150 dogs and cats.

He said if the capacity was 89, as said in the discussion, then the county spends $2,407 on every dog and cat in the shelter compared with $1,750 for every student in the school system.

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