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Larraine Mandeville is sick and tired of the excuses. And she isn’t alone.
Voicing the frustration of dozens in the room and thousands of Wilson County taxpayers, the former animal control officer on Monday asked county commissioners to stop quibbling over past policy and start building the new animal shelter their predecessors promised.
“The people of Wilson County, we’ve put up with it and we’ve put up with it, and we took what we’ve been given, but Wilson County deserves better than this,” Mandeville said. “The buck stops here. Let’s turn over a new leaf. Go ahead and build the shelter.”
Animal advocates gained some ground this week with commissioners showing a willingness to advance the shelter project. But not before some tried to defend the misappropriation of pet fee proceeds that were supposed to be earmarked for the facility.
Commissioners said the yearly registration fees were intended to both build a shelter and enhance animal control services, and while acknowledging the former’s gotten short shrift, they say the money was used responsibly because it supported the latter purpose during and after the Great Recession of 2008-09.
Former Sheriff Wayne Gay has said no stakeholders expected the fees to merely supplement the animal control budget when commissioners voted to authorize them in 2008. Roger Lucas — the longest-serving commissioner and only remaining member of the ‘08 board — wrote in a 2012 email to then-County Manager Ellis Williford that he was “presented an animal fee for the sole intent and purpose of these monies going to build a new shelter.”
The record is clear that replacing the aging, undersized and structurally inadequate animal shelter on Airport Road was the pet fees’ primary purpose. Some secondary uses for leftover proceeds were discussed, but that doesn’t justify the sad reality: Until 2016, commissioners didn’t save one red cent for the shelter. That was, and is, unacceptable.
Wilson County taxpayers don’t want to shame and scold their commissioners. They seek only to spur these public servants to action. If county leaders finally make the animal shelter a top priority and fast-track its construction, they will be heroes to thousands of Wilson pet owners. If they devote all pet fee proceeds to the shelter this year, people will pay their tab without complaint.
A new shelter will expand Wilson County Animal Enforcement’s capacity for stray dogs and cats, reduce euthanasia rates and very likely increase animal adoptions. It could also restore broken trust between the county and nonprofit rescue groups, leading to more cooperation and coordination of services. It’s a win for all involved with plenty of upside for elected officials.
County buildings have interior plaques engraved with grand opening dates that list the architect and general contractor who planned and built each structure. They also list each member of the Board of Commissioners who served when the project broke ground. Don’t our commissioners want their names on that plaque?
Previous board members chose to deprive themselves of that permanent recognition with their pet fee bait and switch. Let these seven secure their legacy as the commissioners who did the right thing.
Until project timetables are announced and until contractors start work on the new animal shelter, county residents must continue to hold commissioners’ feet to the proverbial fire. Don’t stop calling, writing and emailing your representatives on the board.
We cheer Chairman Rob Boyette’s announcement that the county animal enforcement committee will meet to delve into the specifics of shelter plans. But we remember all too well when commissioners last planned to convene the panel in June 2018. That meeting never took place, and eight months have passed since the session was suggested.
Current commissioners aren’t at fault for the initial misspending of pet fees. Yet they’ve had a tendency to drag their feet, delay and equivocate when it comes to correcting past mistakes and moving forward. Perhaps those days have come to a merciful end.
“I believe the board as a whole is interested in moving on this,” Boyette told Times reporter Olivia Neeley.
We sure hope so, as do the Wilson County pet owners paying those yearly fees.