Commissioner Ognio explains his vote on animal shelter


Citizens of Fayette County, I would like to take this opportunity to reply to the animal shelter issues that were discussed July 13, 2017. Please understand that I am not speaking for the board of commissioners, this is my personal opinion. The other commissioners may have different opinions.

Earlier this year, the 2018 budget increased the animal shelter CIP by $50,000. The staff for the animal shelter was increased by 1.5. The .5 was turning a part-time to full-time.

July 13, 2017, the board of commissioners approved improvements to the animal shelter facility. I realize it was not an expansion of the facility; however, it is a much-needed improvement. This will make the shelter more inviting for citizens to visit and see animals that are up for adoption.

In the improvement approval, the issue of bringing the facility more up to date with electronic information boards and tracking of the animals’ stay at the facility was recommended. The issue of connecting to sewer was discussed. I personally thought that the sewer connection had already been made and was disappointed that it had not. It is something that must be done. These improvements are being done because the board of commissioners budgeted the additional funding. Kudos to the staff for bringing these issues to the board.

On this same night, the issue of the policy dealing with euthanasia of animals was discussed. The item was brought up to extend the length of time that an animal could stay before being at risk of being euthanized. Most emails and comments were saying vote no for this. The existing ordinance put 23 dogs at risk of euthanasia and the new ordinance put 9 dogs at risk. I could only ask myself, why would anyone not want to increase the time an animal could stay?

This all came about because Commissioner Brown told the administrator they were not following policy. The administrator said the policy was changing. Commissioner Brown rightly said it must have board approval. Had the administrator and the director followed the existing policy, more dogs would have been euthanized.

Doing this, Commissioner Brown put the administrator and director in a position requiring the policy be put on the agenda. If the commissioners voted no, it would have been a mandate to use the existing ordinance. Why would we want more animals at risk of euthanasia?

The percentage of capacity is an issue for me because I think it limits flexibility. The closer you get to 100 percent [capacity] the more likely you must immediately euthanize.

What do I mean? When you pick up animals and bring them back to a facility that is 100 percent full, you would need to take the longest staying animal over the 30-day requirement and euthanize it.

Just looking at the past couple of weeks. In one week, the shelter took in 12 dogs. At that number, the 75 percent rule meant they would have been required to euthanize seven dogs without time to notify any groups that might help foster. Having the shelter capacity at a lower percentage gives flexibility to contact people to ask for help. This could save an animal’s life.

Ultimately it would be nice to have a system that tracks each animal’s stay and what percentage capacity the shelter is at. Possibly even have it automatically update the website.

The ordinance that was drawn up had issues, some conflicting with state law. If you want an enforceable ordinance, it should not conflict with state law. If you have an issue with state law, address that with your state representative.

The proposed ordinance had items that our facility could not comply with. Why would we support an ordinance we know [we] could not comply with?

The other most disturbing thing was that Commissioner Brown normally chastises other commissioners if they did anything that cost the county money without board approval. I agree with that, and have always asked the board for approval in commissioner comments.

Commissioner Brown never once, in six months, asked the board to direct the attorney to work on this ordinance. This would require many attorney hours to review and put it in ordinance form. This would be spending money without board approval.

Commissioner Brown knows it takes three commissioners to pass anything, yet no other commissioner was invited to the meeting to discuss the proposed ordinance.

Did Commissioner Brown think if it was OK with staff it didn’t matter what the other commissioners thought? There are some changes that need to be made to the ordinance. We must make sure that, if we spend time and money proposing changes, there is some chance that it might get passed.

Lastly, I’d like to address some of the many comments made to me:

• Comment: Vote no to changing the policy. My response: That would have put 23 dogs at risk of being euthanized. Voting yes only put 9 dogs at risk.

• Comment: We want a no-kill shelter. My response: We have been close to the no-kill threshold and my hope that the new policy would help.

• Comment: County does not spend enough money on the animal control shelter. The budget is a small portion of the overall county budget. My response: We are spending about $500,000 this year on the animal control and shelter. How much more should we spend?

• Comment: We shouldn’t spend money on pedestrian bridges and use that money on the animal shelter. My response: Pedestrian bridges and tunnels are for citizens to safely cross busy roads.

• Comment: We need to eliminate the marshals office because we have the sheriff’s staff to do these tasks. My response: If we ask the sheriff to do these tasks, we would have to increase his funding.

• Comment: The shelter is too small based on the county’s population. My response: I have not seen any data showing a calculation for shelter size based on citizen population. This is the first time that the size of the shelter has been brought to the attention of the BOC since I have been on the board.

If an increase in size is to be looked at, we first need to know what that size should be. We then need to see if the existing site can accommodate an expansion like that or if it would require a different location. If it requires a different location — which I suspect it would — then we would have to determine that location. A larger shelter would require an increase in staff which would be an annual cost to the county.

The next step what would be the cost. Then how to fund it. I think the board is willing to look at these issues, but it will take some time.

There is no instant fix; however this Board of Commissioners will continue to work to improve issues in the county, including the animal shelter.

Randy C. Ognio, Vice Chair
Fayette County Board of Commissioners
Fayetteville, Ga.