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Committee, citizens, Humane Society members discuss animal control issue

By Jonathan Pleasant
Several members of the Johnson County Humane Society, among a group of concerned citizens, met with the Johnson County Animal Control Committee Monday night in the lower courtroom of the Johnson County courthouse. After reaffirming the county’s inter-local agreement with Mountain City just over a year ago, interest in establishing an independent animal control in the county is once again being discussed, and not without just cause.
With a huge volume of animal related calls coming into the sheriff’s office on a regular basis and local shelters already overwhelmed, the demand for dedicated animal control has only grown. Outside of the city’s jurisdiction, and with few options available, many of those present cited the need for the county government to take responsibility for what they noted as a very serious problem. Mountain City Mayor Lawrence Keeble and City Animal Control Officer Gary Phillips were also on hand to listen in on the discussion and offer their advice while County Mayor Larry Potter and several members of the county commission listened to the group’s various concerns.
Like most things, the biggest initial issue was cost. With the county budget already running tight and grant possibilities being very slim, Mayor Potter expressed his concerns about finding the initial funding. The two primary needs to establish animal control in the county are building and maintaining a shelter and training and hiring staff. According to Phillips, certified training of an animal control officer is only a few thousand dollars, and while no official figures have yet been researched, the shelter could potentially be built at a minimum standard to help mitigate expense.
The best idea of what such a project could cost Johnson County came from Mary Lane who brought information from Unicoi County’s newly built shelter. Of similar size and population to Johnson County, Unicoi established their animal control back in 2008. According to Lane, the cost of that particular shelter was $90,000, and much of the maintenance and operational cost is funded through enforcement of existing leash laws. Built with inmate labor, the facility now pays for itself, including a full time staff consisting of two animal control officers, a director, and one maintenance worker, as well as two part-time employees who help clean.
Interested in Unicoi’s success story, members of the committee discussed visiting the facility to learn more about how it operates and the process that Unicoi took in implementing the service. The committee also discussed Mountain City’s shelter and the various costs and requirements that keep it operating.
Noting that Mountain City would try to help in the process if it could, Mayor Keeble pointed out the growing concern to see some action on the part of the county. Discussion was back and forth on a number of points ranging from potential locations for a shelter to the possibility of training animal control officers from within the county sheriff’s department. Overall, there were many questions asked but few actual answers.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.