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Sound off: Haywood candidates talk animal shelter

haywoodHaywood County commissioner candidates were asked whether they think the county should spend $3.5 million on a new animal shelter.

Two of the five seats on the county board are up for election. A field of four Democrats and three Republicans will be narrowed down in the primary to two candidates from each party.

In recent weeks, candidates have shared their views on education, economic development, land-use planning and budget spending, as well as their own personal stories and ideological leanings. Catch up before you hit the polling booth at www.smokymountainnews.com, under Special Coverage.

Here’s what they said on the animal shelter:

 

Robin Black, 53, accountant, Democrat

Black said she has nothing against animals.

“My pets are my favorite people,” she quipped.

But Black questioned the price tag of the new animal shelter in light of other needs she believes are more pressing in Haywood County.

“Why are we spending $3.5 million on an animal shelter when 60 percent of the kids in this county don’t have Internet?” Black asked.

Black also questioned the wisdom of buying land for the animal shelter when the county already owned property it isn’t doing anything with, from the acreage on Jonathan Creek purchased years ago for a ball complex that’s gone nowhere to the former health department that was vacated and now sits idle for want of a buyer.

 

Charles Boyd, 67, owner of WNC Landscaping, Democrat

Boyd said a new animal shelter is a priority and is the next project in a systematic effort over the last 15 years to modernize and upgrade the county’s outdated facilities.

“This is the last infrastructure building they’ve got. Instead of kicking this down the road they are trying to get caught up,” Boyd said. “This animal shelter is a must.”

Boyd said the current shelter is “overcrowded and outdated” and doesn’t meet modern standards. He cited several examples, from insufficient space to quarantine sick animals to lack of a dedicated pet adoption area.

“It has just got some problems. We can’t let this go any longer,” Boyd said.

That said, Boyd believes the price tag has climbed too high.

“I have mixed feelings with this on expense,” Boyd said.

Boyd said he doesn’t believe the county should build a Taj Mahal. Boyd believes bells and whistles have been incorporated into the design by animal shelter advocates who were given a seat at the table during the design process.

“After these animal advocacy groups got together it jumped from $2 to $3.5 million, at least according to what’s been published,” Boyd said.

He would like to see the price tag capped at $2.5 million, with the animal advocacy groups responsible for privately raising the funds for anything over and above that.

 

Steve Brown, 62, non-profit director, Democrat

Brown said he supports building a new animal shelter, with a caveat.

“I am in support of building a new facility but as far as the costs, I am not familiar enough with what’s going into it to say whether $3.5 million is reasonable,” Brown said. “I approve the concept, but I am not willing to commit to spending $3.5 million without reviewing the documents and estimations and plans.”

Brown said he has met with the animal advocacy groups pushing for the new shelter and hopes they could help offset the cost through fundraising.

“I think we need to explore opportunities to supplement the funding,” Brown said.

 

Terry Ramey, 61, retired towing and auto repair business, Democrat

Ramey isn’t against building a new animal shelter, but believes the price tag is too high.

“I love animals. I want a state-of-the-art nice animal shelter, but I think we could get it a lot cheaper than what we are looking at,” Ramey said.

Ramey said he’s heard of other animal shelters that were built for half the cost of what Haywood’s will be.

The animal shelter is another example of what Ramey sees as over-indulgence in county building projects.

“We have got to stay up to date with stuff. We have got to have stuff that works. We have got to keep up with the times. And give people that do these jobs the tools to work with,” Ramey said. “But I think we got to shop around and get the best deal on these things we can get. It’s not necessarily they have built too much stuff but I think they could have streamlined it.”

 

Brandon Rogers, 44, owner of Rogers Express Lube and Tire in Canton, Republican

Rogers said he loves animals and wants to take care of them, but questioned the price tag of the new animal shelter.

“I am not in favor of spending $3.5 million on a new animal shelter. Especially if we got a shortfall in our educational system,” Rogers said.

Rogers said he has heard of other counties building animal shelters for less.

Rogers also questioned whether other options have been fully vetted to handle the population of unwanted dogs and cats that could in turn reduce the size and cost of a new animal shelter. Rogers said states up north have a very low number of strays and unwanted animals, so much so dogs from here are shipped north for adoption.

“Evidently they are doing a better job than we are. Let’s find out how they are doing it,” Rogers said. “It is no different than a problem I would have at my shop or plant. I am going to see if we can fix it. Just building a bigger, better one isn’t going to fix the problem.”

 

Kevin Ensley, 54, land surveyor, Republican

Ensley, the only sitting commissioner running for re-election, supports the animal shelter and has voted in favor of the project. He said the current shelter has numerous deficiencies, from inadequate sound-proofing and ventilation to lack of office space and outdoor exercise areas.

Ensley said now is the time to strike given low-interest rates.

Ensley said once the county has some concrete architectural plans in hand, commissioners will assess them to see what could be cut out to reduce costs. But Ensley said it would be unwise to pare it down so much that there’s no room for growth.

“We are trying to build for the future,” Ensley said.

Ensley said Friends of the Animal Shelter will raise money to help with the cost, while animal rescue groups will provide a stable of volunteers to help care for the animals and run pet adoption programs.

“The good thing is we want to partner with the animal rescue groups,” Ensley said. Ensley said the county has shown success partnering with nonprofit groups to meet community needs, from the Pathways homeless shelter and rehab center to the adult day care center for seniors.

 

Greg Burrell, 44, contractor, Republican

Burrell is against spending $3.5 million on a new animal shelter.

“You are going to spend $3 million on a dog shelter?” Burrell asked. “We already have a dog shelter over here. People are treating dogs like they are people.”

Burrell said he loves his dog. His dog rides on the front seat beside him and knows what kind of mood he is in just from the look on his face. But dogs don’t have souls, he said.

“He is the best dog I ever had. Granted I would cry if he died. But he’s still a dog. I can get another one just like him tomorrow,” Burrell said.

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