A new start

J. H. Osborne • Dec 31, 2017 at 11:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — With the start of the new year, the Sullivan County Animal Shelter will officially become just that again as the county resumes sole operation of the facility. But the shelter, at 380 Massengill Road, will likely be closed to the public for several days, county officials said Friday.

The Sullivan County Commission voted last month to terminate a partnership agreement it has had with Kingsport and Bluff City since 2011.

With the commission’s vote to dissolve the partnership, PETworks representatives agreed to split some of the nonprofit’s assets that had been acquired during the county’s partial funding of the joint effort.

As of Jan. 1, the county will no longer be spending $360,000 to help fund SBK/PETworks. That means there’s half that amount, or $180,000, left in the county’s current budget to offset the costs of operating the Sullivan County Animal Shelter as a stand-alone facility.

County workers have been on site the last couple of weeks assessing what needs to be done and starting some of the work.

They described what they found as inadequate and deficient. A pest control company brought in a few days ago reported the facility is infested with vermin. Employees in the office there didn’t need the report to tell them that, as mice feces covers many of their work surfaces. The computers in use are wired haphazardly and security cameras don’t work. Another issue: storage, of food and other supplies. And then there’s the refuse piled out back.

Community service workers, supervised by county personnel, were on site clearing some of the items outside, including emptying and demolishing wooden storage sheds. They had already filled one roll-off Dumpster on Thursday and were quickly filling a second Friday.

The county plans to replace the wooden structures with a metal shipping container.

Inside, efforts will be made to clean the facility, make some repairs, update the computers (and wiring) and repair or replace the security system. New software has been purchased to streamline the process of sharing photos of animals housed at the shelter with the public, including updating each animal’s status and instantly linking to a microchip tracking system for intakes that are found to have a chip. And steps will be taken to eliminate the vermin infestation.

Outside, another addition is in the works: a modular building like those used for extra classroom space at schools will ultimately be brought onto the property. The goal: place it below and in front of the current main entrance and have it serve as the office and main entrance for the public. 

“It’s not going to be great overnight,” Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey said Friday afternoon. “But we are going to do our best to improve the conditions — for the public, the employees and volunteers, and not least of all, the animals. And we’re going to work hard to do as much as we can with what resources we have available to us.”

The county’s decision to leave the joint county/cities effort, a nonprofit originally dubbed SBK, came after SBK’s rebranding as PETworks and plans to construct a new facility to replace the two currently used — one in Kingsport and the other in Blountville. PETworks leadership planned to build the new shelter on property on Highway 11-W on the east end of Kingsport. The county commission earlier this year provided PETworks with $75,000 to help purchase that site.

But commissioners from the county’s “upper end” (around Bristol) and its eastern half (Blountville to Piney Flats) began to question how far that would be from their constituencies. During public comment at several county commission meetings, people who said they’d 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 willing finally to join the partnership, decided to withdraw plans to help fund PETworks and the new facility.

Termination of the partnership leaves Kingsport in sole control of the SBK Animal Control Center after Jan. 1. Members of the SBK/PETworks board indicated the group will move forward with scaled-back plans for the new facility on 11-W. And some commissioners said the county might reconsider at some point and rejoin the partnership.