Down to their third and final strike, supporters of a countywide animal control center were successful in their attempts to secure funding from the Phillips County Quorum Court Tuesday evening.
By a narrow vote of 6 to 4, JPs voted to appropriate $25,000 as the county's portion of the funding for the project. The remainder of the money is expected to come from outside sources, 43 percent; city of Helena-West Helena, 19 percent, including in-kind assistance; and 11 percent from the smaller communities in the county.
Phillips County's $25,000 share amounts to 27 percent of the project's funding.
Gloria Higginbottom made a presentation to the JPs on behalf of the Humane Society of the Delta. According to Higginbottom, during its existence HSD has spayed or neutered 1,500 stray dogs and cats in Phillips County.
“We are the only humane society that I am aware of that handles what is typically municipal responsibilities,” stated Higginbottom. “And we are totally dependent on private donations.”
According to Higginbottom, currently there are more than 70 dogs in the HSD shelter and more than 30 of them were picked up in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Higginbottom asked Doug Friedlander to put together a new concept for the animal control center.
“The new plan was partially modeled after the city and county of Tunica, Miss., which operates a no-kill animal control program paid for by the city and county of Tunica,” reported Friedlander.
The city and county operate the service with the help of a private, non-profit animal rescue group called Tunica Rescue.
Friedlander outlined the new operating plan. The animal control center will
– Utilize the facility that was constructed with funds from a USDA grant, state GIF and Rural Development funds and funds from the county and local cities
– Function as a “no-kill facility
– Provide animal control services throughout the county (apportioned by population in each area of the county), which will consist of doing the following during a 1-year pilot period…
•Removal of at least 120 stray adult dogs countywide
•Spaying/neutering of at least 75 dogs countywide through an experimental “spay and release” program
•Shipping at least 150 puppies out of the community for adoption elsewhere.
“Animal control is a public health issue,” commented Friedlander. “Operating a no-kill facility is more expensive and less effective than operating a kill facility. I realize there are serious financial issues. However, if the values of our citizens dictate that a no-kill operation is what is desired, then we must all be willing to accept either the higher cost or the decrease in efficiency that naturally comes along with the decision to operate a no-kill facility.”
Last month the JPs approved a resolution authorizing the organizers of the proposed animal control center to pursue outside funding sources.
Page 2 of 2 - The project met stiff debate before the JPs finally approved the funding. Quorum court members learned that the county had to dip into the emergency funds in the amount of $100,000 in order to meet payroll.
“I am a dog lover,” commented Justice Teresa Morgan, “but the county cannot afford anything right now. We don't have a jail and we had to use our emergency funds to meet the payroll. We need to think about these things. Where is the money going to come from for the animal control program? I have never put an animal over a human and I never will.”
Friedlander noted that if not enough funds are raised to efficiently operate the program, municipalities will be released from their commitment to provide funding and if money has already been provided those funds will be refunded.
JPs supporting the appropriation ordinance were Patrick Roberson, Lenora Marshall, Tommy Young, Clausey Myton, C.R. Walker and Barbara King. Those opposing the funding were Theotice Mitchell, Edward Carter, Teresa Morgan and Isaac Tribune.
Betty Faye Brimley was not in attendance when the vote was taken.
In other business, the county approved two other appropriation ordinances and tabled a third. One ordinance provided insurance reimbursements in the amount of $9,860 to the sheriff's office. The public defender's fund was increased to $32,372. A third ordinance for the prosecuting attorney's office was tabled until the JPs could determine the necessity for a request for $11,850 for general office supplies.
Before the session adjourned, the JPs engaged in a couple of discussions including the status of the jail. Some justices feel the county needs to move forward in regards as to what action should be taken regarding a jail facility.
The county has been without a jail since April and have been transporting prisoners to and from other facilities in the region, a practice Phillips County Sheriff Neal Byrd says will cost the county more in the long run than the eventual building a new jail or renovating the old facility. The other option open is the possible construction of a regional jail but that is subject to the cooperation of several other counties.
“We can borrow the money to build a jail,” stated County Judge Don Gentry. “However, we need to determine the cost – it could be $3 million or it could be $5 million.”
One JP stated, “We need to get the ball rolling. We can't get anything done until we start talking about it. We need to put it on our priority list.”
Gentry briefly commented on why the county had to dip into its emergency reserve to meet the payroll.
“The sales tax money is not coming in as quickly as it once did,” he said. “People, simply aren't spending as much. The $100,000 will go right back into the emergency fund as soon as quickly as we get it.”