Oconee County will need to hire a new consultant to come up with a design for improvements to its Animal Shelter, Jeff Benko, county administrator, told the Animal Services Advisory Board earlier this month.
Benko said he and Animal Service Department Director Catlyn Vickers are working with Terry Tevis of Tevis Architecture to get additional information about his proposal that the county spend $2.9 million on a replacement facility.
Benko said the Board needs to know what services and areas of the existing Shelter are the top priority for upgrade and that he expected someone to make another presentation to the Board once that information is in hand.
But Benko said it is his recommendation that the person helping the Board decide what it should do next not be Tevis.
Tevis gave a presentation to the Board of Commissioners on Feb. 28 in support of his recommendation that the existing facility on Branch Road of U.S. 441 in the far south of the county be replaced.
The Board raised questions about the report, pointing out inconsistencies and missing information.
Tevis indicated that he would address the problems, and Benko said he and Vickers are working with Tevis to that end.
“I’m not having him back,” Benko said at the meeting of the Animal Services Advisory Board on July 12. “He is probably unsalvageable from a credibility standpoint with the Board. That’s my personal opinion.”
Benko, who is retiring at the end of the month, gave his report on the status of discussions about the Animal Shelter during the regular part of the meeting held at the Community Center in Oconee Veterans Park.
He also responded to a question from Mary Rabai, 1061 Pine Hill Road, off Mars Hill Road, during the citizen comment section of the meeting.
He was less guarded and more critical of Tevis in response to Rabai’s question.
Earlier Benko had said “Frankly, the presentation was less than planned. It did not meet the mark. It left the Board many questions to ask about the study and the review.”
The $2.9 million projected cost for a new facility was “in excess of what the citizens had approved” in the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum, Benko said.
The 2015 SPLOST listed $750,000 for improvements at the Animal Shelter.
Benko said the Board of Commissioners is “firmly committed” to improvements at the Animal Shelter, but he thinks it is going to be three to five years before work is completed.
The Commission has not decided whether the existing Shelter can be renovated, whether something new and suitable can be built on the existing site, or whether a new facility should be built on a more central site.
Benko said the county has paid Tevis, with offices in Atlanta, $10,000 for his work and that additional money will need to be spent on a new consultant to move the project forward.
Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman John Daniell said in the Town Hall Meeting on July 13–the night after the Animal Service Advisory Board meeting–that the county does not have sufficient funds to build a new facility but might be able to renovate the existing facility with SPLOST funds.
Vickers told the Animal Services Advisory Board that she had gotten everything she requested in her budget for Fiscal Year 2018 with the exception of funding for one vehicle.
According to documents provided to me by Daniell and County Finance Director Wes Geddings, Vickers had requested a truck to replace a van at $40,000, and that was approved.
She also requested a cab and chassis to replace a bay truck at $30,000. That was turned down.
Figures released by Geddings shows that the final Animal Services Department budget was $454,287, up from $407,768 in 2017.
Vickers had requested $439,957, according to the documents Geddings provided me.
Vickers said the Animal Services Department adoption program, run largely by volunteers, continues to be a success.
In the last fiscal year, which ended on June 30, the county took in 577 animals as strays and 163 animals surrendered by owners, for a total of 740, she said.
The county was able to adopt out 353 animals itself and another 207 through its program with PetSmart, for a total of 560 adoptions.
Some animals are unadoptable because of behavior, because they are feral, or because they are unhealthy, Vickers said.
Tabled Action On Complaint
Michael Allen Creech, 149 Hillsboro Road in North High Shoals, asked the Animal Services Advisory Board to overturn a classification of his dog as a public threat.
Creech spoke during the citizen comment section of the meeting, challenging Vickers’ decision to classify his dog as a threat last year and again this year.
Creech said he was to be in Oconee County Magistrate Court on July 14 for failing to register his dog this year.
Court records show that Judge Samuel Barth dismissed the case on that date.
The Animal Services Advisory Board tabled Creech’s request on the grounds it lacked adequate information to deal with the request.
Elections And Schedule
The Animal Services Advisory Board elected Philip Freshley to serve as chair and Janet Calpin to serve as vice chair.
Audrey Haynes will serve as secretary.
The terms for Calpin, who served as chair last year, and Freshly expire at the end of June of 2018.
Haynes and Mark Dawson just joined the Animal Services Advisory Board and their terms expire in June of 2019.
Walter Rhyne did not attend the July 12 meeting. His term also ends in June of 2019.
The Animal Services Board set its next meeting for Oct. 11.
The meeting of the Animal Services Advisory Board was in the Community Center at Veterans Park.
The room had strong natural light coming in the windows, creating shadows on many of those who were speaking.
Benko started his report on the Shelter at 15:35 and ended it at 35:23.
Creech began his comments to the Board at 47:15.
Rabai began her question at 1:01:30.