By Tina Alvey
In the wake of warnings that the day-to-day management of the animal shelter could be dropped back in their laps, Greenbrier County Commissioners voted to fully fund a contract with the local Humane Society to continue running the facility.
Judith Walz-Harris, president of the Greenbrier Humane Society’s board of directors, advised the commission Tuesday evening that, because the county had failed to fully fund the organization’s contract proposal in the current fiscal year, ‘the shelter is on course to show a $30,000 deficit by the end of this month.’
“We are now operating in the red for the fourth quarter,” Walz-Harris noted.
She pointed out that the GHS is a nonprofit organization, with limited funds for its own programs, such as spay/neuter assistance and educational programs.
“We cannot fund the county animal shelter,” she said.
The funding of the GHS’s contract to operate the shelter for the county has been uncertain for the past two years, with the county commission and the organization arguing over money and, for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2013, and June 30, 2014, budgeting amounts far short of the actual cost of running the facility.
Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to allocate an additional $30,000 in funding for the current fiscal year, eliminating the projected shelter deficit, and later in the evening, approved on a 2-1 vote to accept GHS’s proposed contract amount of $204,964 for management of the shelter in the upcoming fiscal year.
The alternative to accepting the latter full contract, as presented by Walz-Harris, was for the county to pay the previously budgeted amount of $170,000, which would have purchased the GHS’s services for only nine months. Then, on March 31, 2014, the county would have to either negotiate a new contract with the GHS or make other arrangements for the management of the facility.
Further complicating the situation is the entanglement between the Humane Society and county in reference to the shelter’s ownership. While the land is county-owned, the GHS raised the money to construct the animal shelter on the property.
At the county’s request, the Humane Society took over management of the facility at the end of 2008, following six years of county management.
Commissioner Woody Hanna said he had been shocked to discover only days before Tuesday’s commission meeting that the $170,000 initially budgeted for the shelter’s management in the current fiscal year would not meet the cost of running the facility for the full year. He said he “assumed they could operate on $170,000,” and that the Humane Society, like some other funding requesters, “were asking for more than they needed.”
Understanding that the animal shelter budget is not just a generous contribution toward the GHS, but is actually payment of a bill, dictated by a legal contract, Hanna brought the issue of paying the $30,000 balance owed for the current year to the floor, where it was approved unanimously.
Accepting the full-year contract for the upcoming fiscal year was a tougher sell, however, as Hanna insisted on reinstituting an advisory committee to oversee the shelter’s operation prior to agreeing to support commission President Karen Lobban’s motion for that contract.
Commissioner Mike McClung, who voted against the full-year contract, repeated a familiar refrain, asking where the money would be found to fulfill the pact.
Hanna suggested the county’s contingency fund could be tapped for the extra money, while Walz-Harris proposed either a fee added onto county customers’ telephone bills or drawing funds out of the Arts and Recreation account.
When all of those ideas were dismissed, Lobban closed the debate, saying, “Everything’s tough now. The animal shelter’s important.”
She added, “We’re going to make everything work.”
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