Sunday, February 26, 2017

Feasibility Study Of Animal Shelter On Tuesday Agenda Of Oconee County Board Of Commissioners

Department Head Seeking Support

Advocates for a new Animal Shelter for Oconee County should have an opportunity on Tuesday night to lobby the Board of Commissioners for a new facility.

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to discuss a feasibility study conducted by Tevis Architects as part of its Tuesday night agenda.

Tevis has recommended that the county replace its current Animal Shelter on Branch Road in the far south of the county with another facility, estimated to cost $2.9 million.

The commissioners also will hear an appeal from a local developer of a denial by Oconee County Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie of transfer of sewer capacity for a subdivision in Bogart.

The Board also is to discuss changes to the county’s organization structure ordinance, passed in 2009.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

Citizen Input

Animal Control Department Director Catlyn Vickers asked the Animal Control Advisory Board at its meeting on Feb. 8 as well as citizens present to turn out on Tuesday night to voice their support for the recommendation of Tevis for a new shelter.

Board members expressed little support for Vickers’ request and questioned parts of the recommendation of Tevis.

Citizens present at the Feb. 8 meeting were much more supportive and seem likely to restate that support at the BOC meeting on Tuesday if given a chance.

Board Chair John Daniell has sent mixed signals since he assumed that position in January as to whether he will allow citizen comment if the Board decides to take no action on the Tevis report at what is billed as an agenda setting meeting.

Tevis Recommendation

Tevis, with offices in Atlanta, examined the current facility, reviewed data on current use of that facility, and projected needs based on current animal intake levels and county population projections.

The firm said that it would be more costly to bring the current building up to code and expand it than to build a new facility.

Tevis didn’t indicate where the new facility should be located but noted limitations of the current property and said that a new facility would be better served by county sewage service rather than the existing septic system.

Sewage treatment only is available in the northern part of the county.

The projected $2.9 million cost did not include monies for purchase of land for a new facility.

Holding Areas

Tevis looked at the current capacity of the Animal Shelter and recommended future capacities, based on the need projections.

For example, Tevis recommended that the new facility have the capacity to house 24 stray dogs. The current facility can handle only 17.

The new facility should be able to handle 24 stray cats. The current facility can handle 21.

Tevis is recommending that the facility be able to handle 24 dogs for adoption rather than the current 20 and handle 30 cats for adoption rather than the current 12.

The current facility can handle 85 dogs and cats. Tevis said the future facility should be able to handle 120.

Intake Numbers

At the Feb. 8 meeting, Advisory Board member Philip Freshley questioned the projections that Tevis made showing the number of intakes going up as the county’s population grows. Freshly noted that the data show a decline in intakes after a peak in 2014.

The data on intakes at the Shelter presented by Tevis in its report were only for 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016, and the 2016 data were inconsistent, showing one number in a chart (presumably based on a projection) and a different number in a table.

I filed an open records request for intake data going back as far as those records exist.

Those data, in the chart below, show a sharp decline in intakes from 2008 to 2012, followed by an increase from 2012 to 2014.

As Freshley noted, intakes dropped from 2014 to 2015, but intakes increased slightly in 2016.

Data for the first half of Fiscal Year 2017, that is, from July 1 to Dec. 31 of 2016, showed an intake of 430 animals. If that number if doubled for the rest of the fiscal year, the total intake will be 860, or an increase from 2016.

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Tevis projected an intake of 1,342 animals in 2020, 1,613 in 2030, and 1,956 in 2040.

Adoption Program

At the meeting on Feb. 8, Animal Control Advisory Board Chairman Tom Beacorn said he still was not convinced that the county should run an adoption program.

The county records indicate that the county has promoted adoptions going back at least to 2007.

The county initiated a foster program as part of its adoption effort in March of 2014, and Tevis’ proposal for the new facility includes space not only to hold animals for adoption but also meeting areas needed by the adoption and foster program.

The foster program allows volunteers to take animals from the shelter to try to find them homes.

The data I received from the county following the Feb. 8 meeting provide more complete and more recent information on the disposition of the intakes than I had received when I posted on the impact of the foster program in September of 2015.

The foster program is run in concert with other adoption efforts, including sending animals to other agencies.

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The adoption efforts resulted in a decrease in the number of animals euthanied from 2007 to 2014, but the percentage of animals euthanized remained high until 2014, when the foster program began. (The program was in place only three months in Fiscal Year 2014.)

In 2015, and most dramatically in 2016, the percentage of enthanized animals dropped sharply.

So far in Fiscal Year 2017, only 20.0 percent of the 430 intakes have been euthanized.

PetSmart Partner

The Animal Shelter has become a PetSmart Partner, meaning that the Shelter supplies cats for adoption inside the store in Epps Bridge Center and can show cats and dogs in front of the store on a regular basis.

Glenn Gulley, PetSmart manager, told me in a telephone conversation on Tuesday that the agreement is informal and that the Animal Shelter is under no obligation to provide all of the cats for adoption inside the store.

He said the Shelter is free to obtain cats from other shelters or adoption agencies to help supply the need.

The PetSmart Partner program "does not cost the county a penny,” Gulley said. PetSmart pays for all of the food, litter, advertising and transportation costs, he said.

“The county is not subsidizing PetSmart,” Gulley said. “ We pay all of the costs.”

In addition, the Shelter receives a $50 fee for each animal adopted, Animal Control Department Director Vickers said.

According to Gulley, the animals put up for adoption by the county must be sterilized and vaccinated.

Lovett-Keller Ventures

Lovett-Keller Ventures LLC, the developer of a 28-acre residential subdivision in Bogart, is appealing a decision by Oconee County Utility Department Director Haynie to deny it sewage treatment capacity for its project.

T. Wesley Robinson, a Gainesville attorney, on Dec. 6 of last year sent a letter to Haynie, copied to County Attorney Daniell Haygood, asking that the issue be put on the agenda for consideration by the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.

Robinson told Haynie that Lovett-Keller has purchased sewer capacity already sold by the county to another party so did not need new capacity for the project.

In a separate letter, Robinson said Lovett-Keller was obtaining the sewer capacity from property owned by REO Funding Solutions III LLC.

According to county tax records, REO Funding Solultions III owns Westland, the dormant 443-acre master plan development on the south side of U.S. 78 between Hog Mountain Road and the Apalachee River.

The Board of Commissioners on Jan. 31 voted to refund the fees paid by the owners of Westland for sewage capacity for the project.

Organizational Structure

The Board of Commissioners in 2009 voted to change the organization structure of county government so that the county administrative officer reports to all five members of the Commission equally.

All department heads report to the county administrative officer, except that the finance director reports directly to the Board of Commissioners on budget matters.

At a work session on Jan. 6, new Commission Chair John Daniell said that he was happy with the changes made back in 2009, which he voted to approve as a member of the Commission.

Daniell proposed that the county use some different name for the county administrative officer and make some other minor changes.

The inclusion of the item on the agenda for Tuesday night indicates that the commissioners will discuss those and possibly other changes

Current Administrative Officer Jeff Benko has announced that he will retire effective July 1.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really thought you were giving unbiased reports until this one. It now appears you are advocating for a new 2.9 million dollars animal shelter even though the numbers are decreasing and the Shelter director misrepresented the truth concerning the agreement for the adoption process with Petsmart. You mentioned the adoption fee again, but did not answer the question about whether the shelter must pay to have the animal neutered prior to adoption and if so the cost of that service. Also, I see in the Athens magazine today a half page ad on the adoption services of the shelter, pretty expensive advertising I would think.

Lee Becker said...

Anonymous,
I should have indicated that the animal must be neutered and vaccinated. I will add it to the story. Thank you for raising that issue.
I reported the numbers of intakes. They declined and are now growing slightly. The first chart reports the data.
I explained the agreement with PetSmart, based on what the PetSmart manager said.
Thanks.
Lee

Anonymous said...

Not trying to be "knee jerk", however:

Animal Control Staff = Responsible, hard working, great effort, it's not an easy job

Animal Control Volunteers = Big hearted, work very hard

Animal Control Advisory Board = Some supportive of the shelter & staff; some others are unsupportive and have no business being on the board as they are constantly negative and critical of staff, that faction doesn't offer solutions, just drama

Animal Shelter Building = Current one is unworkable; clearly time for a new, modern, safe, clean, sanitary shelter; Oconee behind other area counties such as Jackson, Clarke, Gwinnett

Anonymous said...

Jackson Co. shelter:

http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2017-02-15/new-jackson-county-animal-shelter-open-business-adoptions

Xardox said...

The old facility has to go. It's inadequate and floods.
$2.9 million ought to be build quite new sets of digs, especially in southern Oconee.
Within all of those numbers appears a pretty modest increase in kennel space.
One hopes there is planned room for expansion if and when needed,
as part of the controversy is in the county growth rates.

Anonymous said...

I do believe we need an adequate animal shelter in the county but not necessarily the Taj Mahal. The three counties referenced in an earlier post are considerably larger in population than Oconee county, they should have larger shelters because all things being equal they should be serving more animals. No one has stated where the county is suppose to get the $2.9 million. As far as general tax receipts - as a county citizen I would prefer that amount of taxes be spent on upgrading county roads, roadside maintenance (may be cutting the county roadsides more than once a season), and signalization in places like the Rocky Branch/Virgil Langford intersection or the Highway 53/Union Church Rd. Intersection.

Anonymous said...

Dept of Agriculture requires animals be sterilized before they leave the shelter . As to the $2.9million , there are dozens of ways to raise funds and start campaigning for funds for a new shelter, and I have no doubt that OCAS will start fundraising once they are given the go ahead.

Kim Keegan said...

I am concerned and something for the Commissioners to ponder, is the disconnect of where the SPLOST money has been awarded. About 3 years ago 750K SPLOST money was awarded to build or rebuild the Animal Shelter. In and around the same time frame 1 million was awarded to the Civic Center to upgrade the dressing rooms. Who benefits from that kind of spending? Where I see it, a new shelter fully funded would benefit all of Oconee County. Where does the new dressing room benefit all of OC? Okay, I got that off my chest.

A new and improved animal shelter, centrally located would benefit all. It not only will encourage new shelter programs that enhance the reputation of the shelter, which would be run by volunteers it will also encourage the community to be excited and involved in those programs at the shelter. This in turn will increase adoptions and would likely enhance awareness for responsible animal ownership. The shelter can provide education and advocacy regarding animal welfare. Where the shelter is now and the condition of the building, it is hard for the public to get excited and involved in the programs. A new and functional Animal shelter will bring the community together. It is not all about the animals. Animal Services provides education about animal care and advocates for responsible ownership. A new location centrally located, the shelter can provide programs for the public to volunteer more easily. Yes, 2.9 million is a big number but Oconee County is growing and should have a shelter that is state of the art and a destination, a place the county can be proud of.