Council tables decision of temporary animal shelter

Councilor Debra Shinn discusses a temporary holding facility for animals in the city.

The Huntsville City Council Monday tabled a decision on where temporary animal kennels will be placed after a motion to approve a plan did not get enough votes for passage.

Councilor Stephen Ford presented a plan to the council to place two or three kennels in a space currently used as storage by the street department. The space is behind the public restrooms that sit between the Water Department and the police gym.

After a lengthy discussion, Mayor Darrell Trahan asked the council to vote on Ford’s plan. The vote was 4-3 to proceed with the plan. City Attorney Howard “Rusty” Cain Jr. said a 4-3 vote “wasn’t sufficient” on an eight-member council. Councilor Niki Rowland was absent Monday.

Councilors Ford, Pat Grubbs, Lyndsay McNeer and Scott Thomas voted for Ford’s plan, with Debra Shinn, Leslie Evans and Roger Eoff voting against it.

The issue was tabled and an ad-hoc committee was formed to study other possible locations in the city. The group will present four or five options at next month’s council meeting.

Public Works Superintendent Josh Murr and Police Chief Todd Thomas will serve on the ad-hoc committee, along with Planning Director Jennifer Thomas, Ford, Grubbs and Sean Davis from the water department.

Trahan told the committee to “spend the next month researching locations and then come back and present to council ... the viable options.”

Several people attended the meeting in solidarity with Paws & Claws Pet Shelter. The city pays the shelter $180 for each dog taken to the facility, which averages seven or eight animals a month.

Murr, who was named superintendent of public works Monday, spoke against the plan. He said the space in question is used to store tractors and other equipment over the winter.

Ford said the storage bay is 13-feet by 30-feet with a sloped floor and high ceiling. Electricity and water are present.

“It is a good location, in my opinion,” Ford said. Trahan has proposed using an older building where the wastewater treatment plant used to be on Highway 23 north of downtown.

“The cost of it is way cheaper than trying to finalize something out there at the sewer plant area,” Ford said.

Trahan asked Murr if he were willing to give up a bay.

“I’d rather not,” he said.

Shinn asked about other city-owned properties that could be used for a temporary shelter or a location for a storage location for city vehicles. Shinn spoke against taking away storage space from the street department.

The city has a new ordinance that says dogs will be kept a minimum of 72 hours. It hopes the animals will be relocated with their owners.

Ford said potential noise from dogs barking  isn’t an issue.

“We don’t know how many times it will be used, how many dogs will be here. I think it’s very minimal that it’s an issue about something about barking,” Ford said.

One audience member disagreed, then Ford reminded her that the shelter will be a temporary holding pen, not a long-term facility.

Planning Director Jennifer Thomas said 26 city-owned properties are in the city.

“There are a lot of options that we may or may not be looking at,” Thomas said.

Huntsville Police Chief Todd Thomas said an animal rescue group in Carroll County has said it could pick up animals in Huntsville once a week. In theory, the group would take animals that would not be going to Paws & Claws.

“Unless we draw up a legal contract that says they’re going to provide us with X amount of animals per month, and that’s not been established either,” Thomas said.

Shonna Harvey, director of Paws & Claws, said only four or five animals at the shelter this year have been returned to the owners.

“In the end, we are going to be in possession of animals, then what do we do with them? We do need to proceed with an agreement at some point, possibly, subject to council’s approval,” Thomas said.

“Establishing a temporary facility is part of it, but there will be a full-time facility if we don’t have somewhere to go with them after that point,” Thomas said.

The police chief said his department is “being extremely picky abut the animals we pick up right now. We just don’t have the money to pick up more of them.”

Cain told the council it needs to establish the temporary shelter before seeking outside help.

“Once you get that (location), then you can get additional inquiries from animal facilities that can take our animals. Right now we’ve got Paws & Claws. If we can get some other entity willing to accept them, you can compare it and make an informed hopefully, best decision.

“You first option in my opinion is what you’ve been working on. Get you a place to put the animals that are picked up and to be held for a few days. If you can’t find their owners ... then you are going to have to take them somewhere.”

Shinn and Evans said they need more information on location of possible kennel placement and the costs associated. Grubbs agreed with Ford’s idea, calling it the most cost-efficient idea.

Audience member Pamela Montoya said, “I think it’s sad that you guys are putting a piece of equipment over the public opinions of our city. Right now the public opinion is what your choices are.”

Eoff said 35 to 40 people in a city of more than 2,300 doesn’t adequately represent public opinion.

“You’re automatically going to get the no’s. We have to try to do what we think is best.”

Shinn also weighed in, saying, “It doesn’t matter to me what that site looks like. What it boils down to that is his [Murr’s] area and we’re taking from his area to use for this when we have other options.”

Montoya interrupted Shinn, which led Trahan to say, “You cannot interrupt this council member when she’s speaking. You are out of order. Allow her to finish, then you may speak.”

Shinn said, “It’s not a matter of not caring. It’s not a matter of seeing that, you can tell he (Murr) doesn’t want them to use it for that ... there are other options we can use ... we haven’t gotten multiple options here to decide on. It’s not a matter of not wanting to get it taken care of. You’re flipping it the wrong way. That’s not it. It’s what is best for everyone and getting it done right and getting it done the first time.”

Shinn continued to address Montoya’s comment.

“It’s not that we’re being insensitive to the animals or not wanting to get it taken care of, but in putting the equipment before the animals, it’s nothing like that.”

In other business:

• Councilor Lyndsay McNeer resigned from the council. She has moved out of the city limits. Trahan said the council will appoint another person from Ward 3 to fill out McNeer’s term.

• Fire Chief Kevin Shinn presented a detailed report about the trouble facing his department during the daytime hours.

Shinn said over the past five years, 67 percent of all calls came between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. He said 70 percent of all fire calls came during the same time period, when his department often has the fewest available responders.

• Economic Development Director Nancy Marsh reminded everyone about a gospel singing this Saturday. The event will be held from 5-7:30 p.m. at the Mitchusson Park Amphitheater. Groups performing will be Crossroads Church from Compton, Marion Johnson Band, The Gilmer Family and Tiffany McDaniel.

Admission will be free but donations will be accepted for the Madison County Ministerial Alliance.

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