Sheltered from costs

Catawba County officials say the area’s municipalities won’t have to help pay for the county’s new animal shelter, contrary to original plans.

The county originally planned for the area’s six municipalities to help pay off the debt service on the new animal shelter, a planned $3.5 million facility expected to open by the end of 2013.

The current animal shelter, which was built in 1985, is about 200 percent over capacity and has a host of issues, ranging from limited isolation areas to lack of space — issues that can easily lead to disease for animals.

County officials recently changed initial plans to make the area’s municipalities pay for a portion of the debt service on the new animal shelter, a portion that would have cost cities like Newton, for instance, up to $27,308 extra annually for 15 years.

Bryan Blanton, Catawba County’s emergency services director and interim director of the animal shelter, said the decision to change the funding plan stemmed from evaluating the long-term impact it would have on municipalities.

“I think it was decided after looking at all of the collaborative efforts with the municipalities,” Blanton said. “When we expanded last time, the municipalities helped pay that cost for the quarantine building, but we’re just going to pick up that debt service this time.”

Each year, all of Catawba County’s municipalities pay a fee to use the county’s animal shelter. The fee, which is paid to the county as part of an annual contract, is based on the population size of each city or town. Newton, for instance, pays about $36,736 to the county each year to use the shelter, while a smaller city, such as Claremont, pays about $3,000.

In addition to the usage fee, some municipalities also contract with the county each year for animal control services.

City and town managers agree, however, that an additional, proportionate debt service fee would have been hard to swallow during already-parched budget times.

“If the county was going to hold strong on the debt service, we were going to have to take a long-term look at it. It could have been something we had to possibly back out of,” said Claremont City Manager Doug Barrick. “The county felt like they needed to upgrade their facility, but we’ve always supported the operations, not the debt service.”

After “positive” communication between both sides, the county agreed to pay for the debt service, and municipal leaders agreed to continue to support the shelter through usage fees. At this point, Blanton said he doesn’t anticipate the usage fees to increase.

Newton City Manager Todd Clark said the shelter is in desperate need of replacement, but agrees that the debt service would have heavily impacted the city. Had the county stuck with its original plan, Newton would have had to fork out an additional $27,308 each year in debt service. That amount would have brought Newton’s total annual cost to the county to $64,044 for animal control costs, which doesn’t include the $44,748 Newton pays each year for its own animal control officer.

“There’s no question there needs to be something done with the facility. There were some things we did agree that we also needed to look at,” Clark said. “We all agreed that we need to do a better job of educating our citizens about spay/neuter. When we are successful at that, we are keeping costs down for the shelter.”

Newton announced a partnership with the Humane Society of Catawba County in February in an attempt to better control its pet and feral animal population.

Clark said he is hopeful the collaboration will increase awareness for spay/neuter services and thus, lower the number of animals sent to the shelter.

“I would like to pursue ways for us to do a spay/neuter clinic here,” Clark said. “As much awareness as we can bring will always be for the better.”

Conover City Manager Donald Duncan agreed.

Duncan said the county has done a good job managing the animal shelter over the years, and the facility is now in need of an upgrade.

"Having a facility to control the animal population and spread of disease is a very good thing," Duncan said.

"Our goal should be to have an adequate facility and have an ongoing active program to have a good animal control policy."

Plans for new shelter
The new shelter, which will be located behind the Catawba County Justice Center in Newton, will have separate entrances for citizens seeking to adopt and those seeking to surrender an animal — something Blanton said should cut down on the spread of disease.

The kennel runs will also receive an upgrade in the new facility to improve safety for shelter workers.

Currently, shelter workers must handle dogs and cats each of the three times daily that they clean the facility.

However, the new shelter will have a “trap-door” style kennel run that will allow workers to move the animals outside of a living space without actually handling the dog or cat, Blanton said.

The ultimate improvement is more space. The new shelter will provide space for up to 38 adoptable dogs and 56 adoptable cats, compared to the space for 15 dogs and 10 cats currently.

Blanton said the county has an architect working on the schematic design of the building.

“We have seen the schematic design and architects are in the point where they are doing the construction documents, and we anticipate seeing them fairly soon,” Blanton said.