Animal Shelter

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Batesville mayor: ‘When will doggone shelter get built?’

By Billy Davis
Panola County government will make payments for the construction and operation of a city-owned animal shelter in a deal worked out Friday by county officials and Mayor Jerry Autrey.

An apparent disagreement surfaced in recent days after Autrey asked new Administrator Kelley Magee if the county intended to budget $200,000 for the new fiscal year, the same amount budgeted by the city.

Eyeing an expected construction cost of $450,000, Autrey had believed the county’s budgeted funds would be its portion of construction costs. As county supervisors worked toward a new budget, however, the mayor learned last week that Panola County was budgeting only $80,000 for the shelter.

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Word reached Autrey that outgoing Administrator David Chandler recalled the city-county agreement differently, leading to Friday’s meeting that included Autrey, Magee, Chandler and Supervisor Kelly Morris.

Chandler informed Autrey, citing state law, that Mississippi counties cannot own and operate animal shelters, which means Batesville and Panola County cannot pursue a 50-50 venture.

“It’s your dog pound,” Chandler tersely told the mayor Friday.

Magee, speaking diplomatically, seconded Chandler’s comments. A similar dilemma arose in Lafayette County government, where she was formerly employed, when an animal shelter was proposed there.

“It must be owned by the city with county input,” she said.

Autrey has been pursuing the animal shelter ever since he took office in 2005, when he made it a priority of his first mayoral term.

The shelter will be constructed near the old National Guard armory on Highway 51. The land is jointly owned by the city and Panola County.

A small but active Humane Society has been pushing for a shelter for several years, and Autrey and Batesville aldermen have been pressed over the last year about the slow pace of the project.

“Now we’re getting close,” Autrey told The Panolian last September, only to complain since then of foot-dragging by Panola County.

Autrey’s apparent frustration surfaced in the meeting Friday, when the low-key mayor told Chandler that the current county budget had included $300,000 for construction of the shelter, a suggestion that Chandler did not dispute. The mayor compared that figure to the city’s own commitment of $200,000.

“We didn’t spend all of our hospital money,” Autrey said, half-joking. “I can tell you that now that you’re gone.”

“We didn’t spend all of ours either,” Chandler replied.

An inter-local agreement has been written and approved by the attorney general’s office, but all parties agreed Friday that the agreement must be updated to include figures for the county’s future contributions toward construction and operation of the shelter.

By meeting’s end, Autrey said he would return to the board of aldermen with the newest plan: the city would pursue a 10-year note to pay for construction, which will include an equal contribution from Panola County, and the county will make monthly contributions for operation of the facility.

All parties also agreed that the new shelter would be owned by the City of Batesville.