Majority of Copperas Cove city council balks at funding new Animal Control facility, will send decision to the voters

By BRITTANY FHOLER

Cove Leader-Press

The Copperas Cove City Council again discussed a new animal shelter facility, deciding to send the decision of whether to fund the project to voters.

Despite earlier guidance by council members to city staff for making the $5 million animal shelter project an item to be funded by Certificates of Obligation, council members informed city manager Ryan Haverlah last Tuesday that they wanted the issue to be decided by voters and for the project to be funded instead using General Obligation Bonds, if voters approve the issue.

City council has been discussing a new animal shelter facility since 2017, when a new facility was quoted at $8 million, and Deputy Chief Brian Wyers said that he was tasked with bringing back a less expensive option. Wyers brought back to the city council a facility that would cost $4.8 million, designed by Brent Brevard of Brevard Architecture.

The current shelter, located at 1601 N. 1st Street, has 46 dog kennels and 12 cat cages. The proposed facility would increase that capacity to 66 dog kennels and 40 cat cages.

During a previous city council workshop meeting, the council had agreed on upping the amount the city would request in debt issuance to more than $14 million, due to low interest rates this year. Of that amount, $5 million was planned for the animal shelter project. The council had also given direction on having the shelter located in the Ogletree Gap area, near the intersection of Ogletree Pass and Five Hills Road, which was one of three possible locations that the city owned that could house the shelter. The other locations included in the Narrows Technology and Business Park (near the proposed Fire Station #4) on Charles Tillman Way and by Fire Station #2 on F.M. 1113.

City Manager Ryan Haverlah said that since the previous discussion and direction provided by council members, he had received comments expressing concern over the $5 million in CO bonds as well as the overall price, which is why he was bringing the item back to council for further direction.

Council members shared their thoughts on the project, with many of them not in favor of using Certificates of Obligation to fund the facility or not in favor of the proposed location.

Councilmember Dan Yancey said he didn’t want to spend $5 million on the project.

He said that he thought the city should look into what more can be done at the current facility, whether that includes tearing down kennels to rebuild and meet the needs and requirements. He said that he didn’t think it needed to be “state of the art” as it had been described in previous discussions.

“ I do think that at the end of the day, from my standpoint, the government doesn’t need to be in the animal adoption business,” Yancey said. “That needs to be taken on by a private enterprise.”

Mayor Bradi Diaz said she felt that the phrase “state of the art” should never have been used but said that the facility that was presented is a facility that’s needed in animal control these days. She added that the cost of the facility will just get more expensive the longer it gets put off.

“Now, we can’t allow, now that we know the state of the animal control facility that we have, we can’t allow our citizens to go there and the people that work for us to work in that facility anymore. It’s dismal and it’s not okay,” Diaz said. “I just think that the comment ‘I want to build something for humans rather than animals’ is short-sighted because this is for humans. If you don’t have a facility to take care of the animals running the street, then it’s a human problem, and it’s unfortunate that the humans in our community aren’t more responsible and they don’t take care of their animals and they do allow them to run the streets but it’s this body’s responsibility to make sure that the citizens of Copperas Cove are safe, and that includes those employees that work in that facility.”

Councilmember Jay Manning said that he felt they needed to shift the view of how they are approaching the animal shelter and animal control.

“We have an excess of animals. Evidently, society does not want these animals, so I would believe we need to change the way we think about things,” Manning said. “Go back to considering animal control, keep them off the street; when we take them in, keep them for a reasonable amount of time, and if they’re not claimed or they’re not wanted, then we have a responsibility to destroy them.”

Diaz said she felt that people have been insinuating that Copperas Cove is trying to become a no-kill shelter because the facility would increase the number of kennels, when in reality, the current shelter has not grown with the city’s population growth.

Manning said that he felt there are other things the city could be spending money on, and the city should have its focus just be removing animals from the streets.

“Pick them up and kill them?” Diaz asked.

“If you want to put it that way, yes,” Manning said. “But we have an enormous feral cat population. They’re a hazard to people’s health. We’ve bene briefed about that in times past. It’s irresponsible for us to go on halfway doing things like we’ve been doing.”

Councilmember Dianne Campbell said that she has talked with Wyers and Haverlah and Chief Eddie Wilson on the subject. She said she knows there is a need for an animal shelter and for animal control.

Campbell said she does not like the Ogletree Gap location for the shelter and also said she didn’t think the facility needed to be a large as it was proposed. She suggested having an outdoor kennel, rather than the proposed indoor/outdoor set up in the design.

“In my view, my opinion is that it needs to be an outdoor shelter with kennels with fans, portable heaters, maybe redo the kennel that we have, keep it somewhere around $2.5 million,” Campbell said. “Maybe we have to look at, if we keep like 40 kennels that we have, that does not accommodate the growth of our city if we want to do what we’re doing today in terms of being able to adopt them out, so maybe it looks like we do have to euthanize sooner than we have been. That’s my view because when it came down to it for me, it was my core values and it had to do with animal shelter versus a senior center or a sports complex or things like that, and that’s where my heart was.”

Campbell said she agreed something should be done but said she couldn’t justify spending $5 million on the project, especially with the other items needed in the budget.

Councilmember Jack Smith was against the Ogletree Gap location as well but proposed leaving the issue up to the voters to decide on.

“It might be 60 percent of the citizens want this animal shelter, and they want to take care of the animals, and they want a good facility,” Smith said.

With the consensus to remove the animal shelter from the Certificates of Obligation debt issuance, the council agreed to keep the debt issuance at less than $10 million moving forward.

Towards the end of the discussion, Wyers explained to council that renovating the current facility to meet the needs assessment was not possible, according to the experts, but that if that was the council’s desire, he wished he had received that direction instead.

“Honestly, I don’t think the footprint of the current facility will support what we need with the city that’s anticipating being at 50,000 residents within the next five to 10 years,” Wyers said. “I don’t think that’s realistic, but if that’s what the council wants me to do and that is your direction of me, I will make that happen. “

Wyers explained that the current office space for animal control/animal shelter employees is 900 sq. ft.

“That’s what they’re working with currently, which is a tiny hole in the wall, and they’re trying to store and everything in that, so outside of the kennel space, which really is inhumane in some sense to send employees into, the actual working area for animal control needs to be considered as well,” Wyers said.

He added that the proposed facility meets the state guidelines for an animal shelter, which is “something that we haven’t met in quite awhile in our current facility.”

“A lot of people grabbed on to that like we were building the Taj Mahal of animal control, and this footprint is not that,” Diaz said. “It is the basic needs for an animal control facility, so the people that work there are safe, and the animals that have to go there are safe until they’re not.”

Wyers added that if the city ended up going towards an outdoor only facility, as Campbell suggested, they would need to find land to purchase to build the facility on “because there’s not a single housing area in this area that’s going to want to be around it.”

An indoor/outdoor facility, as proposed, would allow employees to bring the dogs in at night and avoid noise complaints.

While council provided their direction, they will need to have additional discussion prior to approving a resolution to establish a bond election for the item.

Monday, August 16, 2021 is the last day to order a General Election or Special Election on a measure, for the November 2, 2021 Election Date, and February 18, 2022 is the last day to order a General Election or Special Election on a measure for the May 7, 2022 Election Date, according to the Texas Secretary of State website.

 

 

 

 

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Copperas Cove, TX 76522
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