Toccoa, Stephens Co. Talk Animal Shelter Funding at Joint Meeting

Stephens County and Toccoa City Commissioners talk future funding for the animal shelter.

The Toccoa-Stephens County Humane Shelter was the first topic brought up by commissioners during a joint meeting of the two boards Wednesday at the Stephens County Development Authority offices.

The city and county are spending over $440,000 combined on the animal shelter and animal control in Toccoa and Stephens County in this current fiscal year, more than what was originally budgeted.

The two sides split that cost 50-50 with no cap on funding.

Stephens County Commission Chairman Dean Scarborough said a blank check will not work moving forward.

“(The shelter) is doing a good thing, but we have to kind of corral it a little bit and get an understanding of what it is going to cost,” said Scarborough.

Toccoa Mayor Gail Fry agreed and said that the shelter needs to stick to the budget set by the city and county.

“Once that budget is presented and we vote on that budget, that is the budget,” said Fry.  “They cannot come back later in the year and ask for more money.”

Commissioners talked about what would be an appropriate budget for the shelter moving forward.

Stephens County Administrator Phyllis Ayers said that she looked at other area shelter budgets and noted that the Northeast Georgia Animal Shelter in Lavonia gave her its budget of about $179,000 per year.

Multiple commissioners said they hope that having animal control employees help with shelter operations and bringing in more inmate help should help lower some operational costs.

Toccoa City Commissioner Evan Hellenga said now that the shelter has been open a year, everyone should have a better idea of the budget.

“You can take these first construction type monies out,” said Hellenga.  “What we are doing right now is what it is really going to cost to run the shelter.”

City and county officials say they have not received a proposed budget from the shelter at this time for Fiscal Year 2015 to help them with their budget planning for next year.

Multiple commissioners expressed frustration that such a proposed shelter budget had not yet been turned in.

Scarborough said it is hard to set a budget cap without knowing what the shelter proposes.

“I would be hard pressed to set a $200,000 (total) target and he turns in a budget we can live with of $175,000 a piece,” said Scarborough.

Commissioners asked city and county staff to get with the shelter to get that proposed budget.

In the meantime, Ayers said the city and county could add language to their intergovernmental agreement regarding funding the animal shelter to prevent giving them a blank check.

She said the language could base the funding amount on the amount in the fiscal year approved budget by the city and county.

City and county commissioners said they like the flexibility that language would provide and agreed by consensus to move towards adding that language to the agreement.