published Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Cleveland, Tenn., rejects county's animal control plan

Janice Casteel
Janice Casteel
Photo by Randall Higgins /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Cleveland Animal Shelter will not accept animals from outside city limits beginning July 1 if Bradley County and Cleveland officials cannot reach an agreement by June 26.

The Cleveland City Council mustered only 3 out of 7 votes in support of a proposal from the county that would reduce its portion of the animal control budget by eliminating animal pickup services outside city limits.

Ending the agreement would come as a blow to Cleveland's efforts to become a "no-kill" community, city Mayor Tom Rowland said.

City Manager Janice Casteel recommended that the City Council not accept the original three-year term of the proposal, as it would significantly reduce the county's portion of animal control expenses the longer it lasted.

Councilman Richard Banks proposed that Cleveland give the agreement a one-year term, but he only received the support of councilmen George Poe and Dale Hughes.

The current agreement calls for the county to pay a percentage of the projected animal control budget based on the percentage of animals from outside the city that are picked up by or dropped off at the facility. Nearly 60 percent of the animals handled by the shelter are from outside the city.

Under those terms, Bradley County paid $324,600 of a projected budget of $541,300 for fiscal year 2013.

Bradley County's proposal to eliminate animal pickups outside the city and use audited numbers was estimated to cost the county $167,000 for fiscal year 2014. That number would be cut almost in half by the next year with the elimination of county animal pickups, Casteel said.

"It's a bad deal," Councilman Bill Estes said. "We need to end this."

He said the county's proposal would double the burden of city taxpayers.

Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Yarber recommended the county retain all services but use audited numbers for its contribution, which was estimated to be $298,000. The City Council previously had signaled it could accept such a proposal.

Yarber, along with Commissioners Brian Smith and Jeff Morelock, voted against the proposal that actually was submitted to the Cleveland City Council.

Any 911 calls on animal control issues outside city limits will need to be referred to the Bradley County Sheriff's Office if the agreement ends, Casteel said.

She said the animal shelter may have to cut personnel costs by shifting a couple of employees to openings in the Public Works Department.

About 65 percent of the proposed animal shelter budget is allocated to salaries and benefits for eight employees, which amounts to $434,000 of its $662,000 in expenditures.

While salaries and benefits have been fairly consistent, the shelter has experienced a leap from $22,000 to $100,000 in veterinary expenses related to increased animal adoptions since last year, officials said.

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

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