You'll likely be able to visit the Sullivan County Animal Shelter by Thursday

J. H. Osborne • Jan 10, 2018 at 8:26 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Animal Shelter will not reopen to the public today, county officials said Tuesday afternoon. The county regained sole control of the shelter on January 1, and county employees, volunteers and community service workers have since been trying to rehabilitate the facility.

Officials initially hoped to reopen by January 8, but by late last week said it would be at least today before that could happen — saying then that harsh weather could mean further delay.

On Tuesday, Sullivan County Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey said the weather did in fact disrupt the flow of work at the shelter as county maintenance employees had to address frozen pipes elsewhere throughout much of the day on Monday.

“Now we’re hoping to reopen to the public by Thursday,” Bailey said.

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.

Last year, the county spent $75,000 to help purchase the property proposed as the site for that new facility. But in time a majority of county commissioners soured on the project, specifically after SBK/PETworks representatives — who had said when asking for the money to buy the land they wouldn’t be back to ask for more money — came back and asked for more than $1 million to help build the facility. Commissioners said they had been told when they agreed to pay for the property that funds to build the facility would come through a major fundraising effort by SBK/PETworks.

Commissioners from the county’s “upper end” (around Bristol) and its eastern half (Blountville to Piney Flats) began to question how far the new shelter would be from their constituencies. During public comment at several county commission meetings, people who said they had volunteered at the animal shelter in Blountville said they and others from the upper and eastern parts of the county would not make the drive to Kingsport.

And, ultimately, the city of Bristol, Tennessee, which had indicated it was finally willing to join the partnership, decided to withdraw plans to help fund PETworks and the new facility.

Under the 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.

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, and some adoptions have been completed as well.