published Friday, August 30th, 2013

Bradley County panel to seek solution to animal control outside Cleveland

Patrick and Mariah Betancourt walk through the Cleveland Animal Control Shelter looking for a dog or cat to adopt Thursday in Cleveland, Tenn. A five-member committee made up of two Cleveland City Council members, two Bradley County commissioners, and animal rescue worker Rachel Veazey is being formed to address providing animal control services to county residents.
Patrick and Mariah Betancourt walk through the Cleveland Animal Control Shelter looking for a dog or cat to adopt Thursday in Cleveland, Tenn. A five-member committee made up of two Cleveland City Council members, two Bradley County commissioners, and animal rescue worker Rachel Veazey is being formed to address providing animal control services to county residents.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Cleveland and Bradley County leaders have put together a panel to find a solution to the lack of animal control services in the county outside Cleveland city limits.

The situation since July 1 is the result of the failure of county and city representatives to reach agreement on the county's share of the Cleveland Animal Shelter budget.

At a recent meeting, Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Yarber challenged county representation on the committee.

County Commissioners Charlotte Peak-Jones and Bill Winters serve on the panel with Cleveland City Councilmen Dale Hughes and George Poe and animal rescuer Rachel Veazey, who spearheaded an online petition calling for a solution.

Yarber questioned the selection of Peak-Jones and Winters by Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford, stating that at least one member ought to be one of the few commissioners who had expressed support for an animal control contract option favored by the Cleveland City Council.

In May, commissioners Jeff Morelock and Brian Smith joined Yarber in favoring an agreement that retained all animal pick-up and drop-off services for county residents, but based the county's contribution on audited shelter budget numbers. That option was estimated to cost the county $298,000 in the 2013-14 fiscal year. The Cleveland City Council signaled it could accept such an agreement.

The Bradley County Commission instead voted 9-3 -- with Morelock, Smith and Yarber opposing -- to request a three-year agreement that would eliminate animal pickup outside the city but allow all county residents to drop off animals at the shelter. That option amounted to a $167,000 county payment, but city officials said it would shift an increasing financial burden onto Cleveland taxpayers.

In all scenarios, the county's portion of the animal control budget was based on the percentage of animals and service calls originating outside the city limits. In recent years, that equated to about 60 percent of the Cleveland Animal Shelter budget, but that percentage has been estimated to drop significantly with the elimination of pickup services outside the city.

The county paid $324,000 for animal control services in 2012-13 and would have paid $355,000 under the old agreement terms -- which were based on projected animal shelter figures -- with the city for 2013-14. The Bradley County Commission voted to renegotiate the terms in February.

The proposed 2013-14 animal control budget exceeded $600,000, which included more than $400,000 in personnel-related costs.

"We're not against animals," Winters said. "We're not against the city. This is a budgetary situation we're looking at."

When the city would not accept the county's offer of $167,000 or the county's animals, the crisis was created, he said. The county no longer could afford $300,000 for animal control and tried to "make reductions in a positive way."

The ad hoc committee for county animal control plans to meet at the Holiday Inn Express at Interstate 75's exit 27 at noon on Tuesday.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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