A last-minute move by Johnson City commissioners this past week to include $1.5 million in the city’s budget to fund construction of the new Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter marked the most decisive and deliberate step taken in this quest so far, especially when it comes to dollars.
A third and final reading of the city’s roughly $208 million 2014 budget, including the animal shelter and other additions, took place early Friday morning in a brief special called meeting, and additional cuts in special appropriations are not part of the deal.
Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin, who the night before made an impassioned plea for other commissioners to go forward with the plan, said the next step is to meet with architect Thomas Weems and finish a workable design of an expanded shelter on the new site off North Roan Street that will allow animals to be held for a longer time, thus reducing the high euthanasia rate.
The cost of the basic structure, including site work, continues to hover around the $1.2 million mark.
Vice Mayor Clayton Stout came up with the idea of issuing debt to pay for the new shelter’s basic construction. Now a reality, it remains a bit unclear how Washington County officials will react, although the city and county are jointly responsible for the shelter’s well being.
“This has morphed into a multimillion dollar project,” County Mayor Dan Eldridge said Friday. “No one wants to see high euthanasia rates, but there needs to be some prioritizing of spending at this level. We’ve already got a lot of needs that are ahead of the shelter. Monday night we are going to consider more than $9 million in spending on capital needs. I can’t speak for the county commissioners, but I’m not sure they will see this as a priority.”
The Animal Control Board plans to continue its month-to-month contract with North Carolina-based Dickerson, Bakker and Associates — the company hired to head a capital campaign to raise money for the new shelter. It now also has a fully formed fundraising committee that includes some well-known people in the community.
Though the board’s building fund is just slightly above the $100,000 donated by the county, there is a general consensus that between donors drummed up by the company and local contributions, the net result could move the total amount garnered to about $1.9 million, meaning a new spay-neuter clinic would be added to the mix.
“Like it or not, that is our property,” Stout said at the commission’s Thursday meeting. “I don’t mean that as a negative against the county. But the city leads the way.”
The city last year gave $350,000 to the Animal Control Board, which went toward the purchase of the new property. The County Commission cut the board a $100,000 check to help with construction after passing a revised resolution. They also decided to hold in escrow an additional $150,000 that would be given to the board when $1 million in private funds was raised.
The board now will have well more than the $1 million needed, but questions remain.
“Obviously the city is not a private entity, but I don’t think that will change things,” Eldridge said.
The resolution said that if these funds are not used for construction within 24 months of last year’s resolution, the appropriation ($250,000) will expire and all monies will be returned to the county. Only 10 months remain on that commitment. The county also committed $100,000 for asphalt and paving services (in-kind), but this money only will be released when a construction contract is executed.
The dynamics at play in what appears to be on the surface the relocation of an animal shelter are, in fact, far-reaching and intertwined.
Economic development is undeniably a big part of the equation. Completion of the Lark Street Extension Project is contingent upon relocating the animal shelter and the Boys and Girls Club of Johnson City/Washington County.
By providing the money to build the new shelter, the city has quickened the pace on two two-lane roads through the now-rundown Optimist Park and across the current animal shelter property on Sells Avenue. Businessman Guy Wilson’s 11,000-square-foot pharmaceutical distribution and compounding facility, Clinical Management Concepts, was constructed with the expectation the new access road would follow to help serve his ProCompounding Pharmacy company.
It was Wilson who requested a new access road be built from West Market Street to North State of Franklin Road via Lark Street to facilitate truck traffic as the facility came online. Wilson helped the city qualify for a Tennessee Department of Transportation grant by building a $1.8 million structure last year and adding 25 new employees.
The access road project will lay the initial groundwork for a connection to the other side of West Market that will facilitate the infrastructure needed to develop the area and help open an economic door in and around 30 acres of city-owned land at the former National Guard Armory site.
Meanwhile, a replacement must be found for Optimist Park, since federal money was used for its construction and one of the caveats to that funding was that a new recreational site be acquired. City officials also are eager to open up an avenue, not only through which traffic can move, but more importantly, new development and additional tax revenues.
In October, commissioners announced they had a buyer lined up for the Boys and Girls Club. Just seconds before a vote to approve the consent agenda — an agenda that included a proposal from Johnson City’s Brumit Co. to buy the 6.3-acre lot — the City Commission deferred further discussion.
Commissioners voted to wait until updated appraisals were available on the city-owned site and a possible alternative location at the old Traco manufacturing property on Silverdale Drive — a site Brumit would have to pay for. That has been done, but no transaction has transpired.
That brings into focus what an expedient departure by the animal shelter really means. It provides relief for an aging and crowded shelter with undesirable kill rates while opening at least one of the necessary doors for completion of the road.
In turn, property in that area is valuable and desirable and could, in the future, mirror the expansive development that has occurred at and near the West Market/State of Franklin Road intersection.