Tomita, Van Brocklin split on spending for Washington County Animal Shelter

by Tony Casey – Johnson City Press

Original Post

Editor’s Note: More regulation. Discussion of the mandatory spay/neuter ordinance is deeply buried in this article. Breeders and people with show dogs would have to be licensed to avoid MSN.

At Tuesday night’s monthly Animal Control Board meeting, city commissioner David Tomita voiced his concerns over the value of paying a consultant firm to help with fundraising for the new Washington County Animal Shelter.

“I don’t mind spending money when there’s a return on it,” Tomita said in regard to the $5,000 the project pays each month to the North Carolina-based consulting firm Dickerson, Bakker and Associates.

Tomita, with fellow city commissioner Jenny Brock, said they owe it to tax payers to be as frugal as can be with their money in building the new shelter on the 6.6-acre lot at 3411 N. Roan St.

Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin passionately charged that there is value to the money being spent on the consultants, that it has made returns on the fees paid to the group, and that it’s a necessary expenditure to keep the project on schedule with fundraising.

“I’m doing my damnedest to give the fundraisers something to sell, David,” Van Brocklin said, even though he admitted having some “discomfort with them.”

The disagreement stems from locking in a design for the new shelter, which would give the group an opportunity to both get bids for the project so they can move forward with a financial plan, and also to have a locked-in design to show potential donors specifically what their money would be going to.

Van Brocklin expects to be at that checkpoint of getting bids by January, and Tomita would like to be at that point sooner than that.

“Let’s figure what we’re building, and let it go to bid,” Tomita said. He said the $50,000 the board will have paid to the Dickerson, Bakker and Associates by January doesn’t sit well with him, and he thinks it could be spent better on other parts of the project.

One piece of spending proposed and agreed upon by the majority of present board members was paying an expert consultant, perhaps with the money they’ve been spending on Dickerson, Bakker and Associates, to look at the designs of the shelter to weigh in on what works and what doesn’t work for previously-built shelters.

Architect Thomas Weems, who’d taken on the responsibility of planning parts of the design, wasn’t present, but it seemed that he lost the confidence of the board, as they were unsure if he’d consulted with experts who had actually built animal shelters before. The board felt it would be a different project than other kinds of buildings Weems might have worked on before, noting that checking with experts on the design might save money and any complications ahead of time.

With a design, bids and financial figures not yet ready, the issue was raised about what would happen if they find they’ve come in over budget.

Van Brocklin estimates with anywhere from $2.1 million to 2.2 million ready for the project, the numbers should line up well, but if they were presented with a money issue, he would be more than ready to cut back where ever necessary.

One potential way to scale back and perhaps save money would be to look at the number of animals that have come into the shelters recently. Tomita noted if there’s been a trend of lower numbers, then they might be able to design a somewhat smaller new shelter.

This idea stemmed from Washington County Animal Shelter Director Debbie Dobbs’ report that for the month of September, the number of animals coming into the shelter reached the lowest monthly number in 15 years. These low numbers, Dobbs said, have resulted from the information about being a responsible pet owner put out by the shelter.

With that, the board seemed ready to make a push for an area spay and neuter ordinance, which would keep litter numbers down. Dobbs was adamant to explain that this wouldn’t be over regulation where they would go door to door checking spay and neuter papers, and that they would only look into the matter if there was a complaint. 

Dobbs said if a dog came into the shelter more than once in a 12-month period without having been “altered,” it would be done so at the expense of the owner. She cited a case where an English Labrador has been into the shelter five times in the last year for running loose and reproducing, where they continue to fine the owner $100 each time but it hasn’t made a difference.

The only exception to the ordinance would be dog breeders and showers, who would prove their status through a license.

Van Brocklin and Tomita agreed on taking the matter from there, saying it was a necessary step to keep local numbers down.

“We’re trying to make an impact here,” Van Brocklin said.

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