County officials are committing $10 million toward a new shelter for the Humane Educational Society (HES).
Only Commissioner Tim Boyd spoke against the allocation at a commission meeting on Wednesday. He said a more urgent need was a $5 million training center for police, fire and emergency workers.
County Finance Director Albert Kiser said the county came up with a total $14 million in available capital funds after approving a property tax increase and not issuing a major bond issue until the following year.
The projected cost of the new facility is $13 million with the HES committed to raising $3 million. County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he was advised that HES thus far has come up with $1.7 million-$1.8 million.
HES several years ago acquired land off South Access Road.
It has long occupied a century-old building on N. Highland Park Avenue. Mr. Citrullo said employees carry umbrellas when it rains.
The commission is set to vote on the appropriation next Wednesday.
Commissioner Randy Fairbanks said he toured the facility and found it "pitiful. It was heart-breaking."
Chairman Sabrena Smedley said all commissioners should make the tour prior to the vote.
Mr. Citrullo said HES has been steadily caring for more animals, while cutting the euthanasia rate. It handles about 5,000 animals per year through contracts with the county and several municipalities. The euthanasia numbers have gone from 1,400 to 521.
County Mayor Coppinger said the county is obligated to care for animals and could not do it at the $6 per capita rate that HES charges. Officials said the McKamey Center that serves the city of Chattanooga charges $9.29 per capita and East Ridge is at $11.6 per capita.
Commissioner Boyd questioned why there had been an 11 percent increase in the salary item at HES in a year.
He also said the $285 per square foot cost for the facility was high. Mr. Citrullo said it is expensive to build animal shelters because of special "hospital-like" requirements. He said the design is by a team of architects that plans shelters across the country.
Responding to the Boyd comments, the county mayor said, "I don't want anybody in this county to think that our officers, firefighters and emergency workers are not properly trained." He said many had achieved high certifications.
He said, "It's very disturbing to me that comment would be made."
County Mayor Coppinger said, "This project totally stands on its own. It is not getting ahead of another project."
On a comment by Commissioner Boyd that the county school hold title to the building and property, the county mayor said, "We did not want the liability and the responsibility."
He said, "What I have heard really stuns me."
Dr. Tai Frederico, HES president, said there had been talks of a merger with McKamey, but he said there were a number of factors that would make it unworkable. He said, "It wouldn't be a very comfortable fit."