The recent criticism of the condition and operation of the shelter has uncovered its two main problems: understaffing and antiquated facilities. Currently, the shelter has only one paid employee, Animal Control Officer Heather Sealy whose duties often require her to be away from the shelter for much of the day. The shelter should be staffed by at least three trained, paid employees, one of whom would always be on duty at the shelter while the others would be out responding to calls around the county.
Both Mrs. Sealy and the critics have voiced a desire for a new, larger, more modern shelter equipped with a wide-range of facilities that would make the animals kept there more comfortable and increase their chances of being adopted. One of those critics, Robert Small, has said he is ready to donate $10,000 toward the cost of building a new shelter and has challenged others to join him in the effort.
Supervisor Donnie Betenbaugh has said that last fall Mrs. Sealy had some preliminary drawings of a new animal shelter drawn up. While the exact cost of a new shelter is not known, Betenbaugh said the county would establish a special fund for a new shelter for anyone willing to donate.
The county should go ahead and establish that fund and Small should be the first to donate. In fact, he should go ahead now and cut the county a check and publicly present it to Betenbaugh and reissue his call for the rest of the county to join him in the effort. Other critics of the shelter should do the same thing.
Once the account is open, the county should issue a monthly report on how much money has been donated, who donated and how much they’ve given. At the same time, the county should further have detailed plans drawn up for a new shelter and allocate funds for its construction, even if that means a tax increase.
That brings us to staffing of the shelter. This too is a problem that can only be addressed with money. The shelter’s current budget totals $45,883, just barely enough to cover Mrs. Sealy’s salary and benefits and some other operating costs.
This clearly isn’t enough and Mrs. Sealy should go before council and ask that it increase the shelter’s operating budget to the point where it can afford a three-member staff. Her critics should throw their weight behind it as well.
Tripling the shelter’s operating budget should be done through a special tax millage similar to the ones the county levies in support of other county entities. A county tax mill is currently worth $60,000 and a two-mill levy would generate $120,000 for shelter operations, more than enough to employ a three-member staff while also providing more money for other operating expenses.
(Some critics say more volunteers are needed at the shelter and I agree, volunteers would be a big help. Unfortunately, volunteerism is dependent upon enthusiasm and when that wanes — as it often does — many of the volunteers fall away. While there are always a faithful few whose enthusiasm only grows the more they get involved, it’s been my experience that when it comes to quality, dependable service on a steady basis, you need a trained, professional staff that gets paid to show up to work every day.)
Council should go ahead and levy the operating millage for the shelter because it’s the right thing to do, just as building a new shelter is the right thing to do even if not a single private donation is made toward the effort. As the supreme governing body of Union County, it’s council’s responsibility to fix any and all problems at county institutions and ensure that all residents, including the four-legged ones, get the best treatment possible.