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By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer
During last Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, commissioners heard from members with the Coosa County Animal Shelter Board of Directors regarding an update and request for funding.
Chair and Operations Manager Dennis Hill made the overall presentation and request to the commission. He was joined by Dr. Chad Baxley, a Coosa County resident who owns a veterinarian office in Sylacauga, who serves on the board as the director of health.
Hill provided the commissioners and meeting attendees with updates regarding the shelter, including achieved and ongoing fundraising plans. He explained that currently the county has an animal shelter “in name only” and explained that they are continuing to work hard to raise funds to make the shelter a reality.
After achieving 501(c)3 nonprofit status, the board officially kicked off its donation drive and has steadily been working on gathering donations for the shelter. Hill explained that they need startup costs, as well as operating costs to help the shelter be a success.
He credited the local newspaper and the shelter’s Facebook page as being great sources for getting information out regarding the shelter and providing updates. After holding the first volunteer meeting, he reported that they had 38 people registered to actively work with the shelter and volunteer.
Dr. Baxley also addressed the commission with information and mentioned that his veterinary office in Sylacauga averages two to three calls per week regarding strays in Coosa County. He reported that the Sylacauga Animal Shelter gets an average of five to 10 calls per week about strays in Coosa County.
He further reviewed information regarding incidences that he said happen quite often regarding strays and shared emails he received from Coosa citizens about issues they’ve had with strays.
“We do have a problem,” Baxley said. “You can ride just about any road in Coosa County and there are strays everywhere.”
Hill said that he broke the fundraising down into four categories – individuals, corporations, grants, and county/municipalities. He explained that he had just recently sent out a letter to area corporations requesting that they consider making a donation to the shelter.
Hill further explained that he had gone to all three municipalities to make presentations at town council meetings and said that he was well received by them, adding that they were favorable of the shelter, although none of the municipalities had yet approved making a donation to the shelter.
Hill said that they get calls every week about strays in the county, adding that once the county has a shelter in place Sheriff Michael Howell had mentioned getting an animal control officer for the county.
In discussing plans for the shelter, Hill said they could have interns from Auburn University, Tuskegee and other area colleges come to work at the shelter. He added that local high school students could volunteer at the shelter and study alongside the interns.
“It’s an investment in the future,” Hill said.
He further thanked and recognized each of the five commissioners for their encouragement and support of the shelter thus far, recognizing what each has done.
Hill said that they currently have all three municipalities and individuals ready to “go to bat” for the shelter and said they’re looking to the county. He said that he feels that they have the startup costs covered.
However, he said what is not covered and not expected to be covered is the operating costs. He added that they are asking the County Commission to step up, further asking the commission to consider annual funding of $10,000 per year for the shelter, with the estimated operating costs being $22,000 per year.
Following his presentation, the commission discussed a possible appropriation for the animal shelter. With all commissioners present, the commission and County Administrator Amy Gilliland had favorable conversation regarding providing funding for the shelter.
Gilliland mentioned that she had checked and that the county can use a portion of its $1 million American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funding for the shelter. She said she spoke with Kelley Gillikin, director of Investing in Alabama Counties (IAC), who said that she had already met with three other counties that are having to build animal shelters from the ground up.
Gilliland said that she asked Gillikin about ARPA disbursements and that she was told they are already “way ahead of the game.” In further discussions with Gillikin, she noted that it was okay for the county to use ARPA funds and that Hill would be a sub award and would get the money as a sub award.
Gilliland mentioned paperwork that would need to be done to reach that point, but said the two forms to fill out are the only hoop they have to jump through. She mentioned that Gilliken had pointed out “what better way to help your community than to use these monies to appropriate for that while you have them so it’s not coming out of our general fund.”
Gilliland mentioned that knowing they have the ARPA funds available makes a difference.
During further discussion, Commissioner Unzell Kelley said, “Like she said, $10,000 a year, you can’t beat that. That won’t even hire… Goodwater and Rockford had animal control officers in the past, and they were paying a lot more than that. I think maybe a 5-year start… I want to give you a 3-year start at least. I don’t want to tie the commission down to anything, but that’s just my suggestion – $50,000 on the high end, $30,000 on the low end.”
Hill said that a 2- and 3-year plan would be “fantastic,” adding that it would give them time to work on grants and other available funding options once the shelter is operational.
“I appreciate everything y’all have done to get this going and anybody else that has helped,” Commissioner Kelley said.
The matter was on the agenda for discussion only, and action was not taken at that time. Following discussion, Gilliland and the commission will further review the matter to see how much it will have available from ARPA funding to go toward the shelter and approve a designated amount at a future meeting.
Also during last Tuesday’s morning meeting, Commissioner Randall Dunham provided his letter of resignation as chair of the commission. Commissioners unanimously approved accepting his resignation.
His letter read, “Dear Commission: I am resigning as chairman of the Coosa County Commission effective June 14, 2022. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as chairman for the past year.”
During the meeting he stated that he was asking the commission to relieve him of his duties as chair “as of now,” and Vice Chair Bertha K. McElrath presided over the remainder of the meeting.
For coverage of the rest of the County Commission meeting, see next week’s edition.
The next meeting of the Coosa County Commission will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 28.