Officials had hoped to reopen to the public by Monday. But as work continued Friday to clean and update the shelter — amid the formidable task of trying to eliminate a massive, floor-to-ceiling mice and rat infestation — Sullivan County Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey told the Times News the reopening will have to wait until at least Wednesday. Wet weather in the forecast for Monday could mean an even longer delay, Bailey said.
At the facility itself, progress was obvious since the Times News visited a week earlier. Many of the discarded appliances, cages and furniture that had been left piled at the rear of the building last week have been removed, along with what Bailey said were multiple roll-back Dumpsters full of junk. Inside, front offices have been emptied of feces-covered desks and file cabinets as well as outdated computers with ill-arranged wiring. Taking their place are new or well-cleaned furniture and cabinets and new computers with updated software and streamlined wiring. There are also new telephones, credit card processing equipment and shelving.
The Sullivan County Commission voted several weeks ago to end the county’s seven-year partnership with Kingsport and Bluff City, which had allowed a nonprofit group to provide animal control to all three entities. Bristol, Tennessee, had participated by paying a set amount for each animal it brought to the shelter. The partnership originally was known as SBK, but last year began the process of rebranding itself as PETworks, with a stated goal of building a new facility on East Stone Drive to replace the shelter in Blountville and the one on Idle Hour Road in Kingsport.
Under that partnership, the county provided $360,000 per budget year to SBK/PETworks. Because the county’s budget year runs from July 1 of one year through June 30 of the next year, ending the partnership on December 31 left half that yearly amount, or $180,000, in the county’s budget for this year. That money can be used to help the county operate the facility on its own until July 1, when the new budget cycle begins.
SBK/PETworks did not take any animals when it left.
The Times News asked Bailey if the partnership left behind much of anything in the way of assets that didn’t exist prior to its creation in 2011.
Bailey was quiet for a moment before saying he couldn’t identify any.
The nonprofit did return two trucks the county had signed over to the partnership when it was first created, Bailey said.
As for the facility being overrun with vermin, Bailey fulfilled a request from the Times News for a copy of an evaluation of the problem by a pest control company.
In a letter dated December 28, 2017, the inspector noted finding “a severe infestation of mice. This morning a nest of babies was fond in one of the dog kennels, and ... personnel has killed multiple mice inside the desk.” The letter also noted the mice infestation extended into the drop ceilings.
The initial “clean out” portion of getting a handle on the infestation was estimated to last at least 10 days, according to the letter, and would include bait stations both outside and inside the shelter and a technician checking and maintaining all of the equipment being used.
Although the shelter is closed to the public, Bailey said employees and volunteers have worked with anyone who needed to drop off an animal by setting up a time to do so.