The Harrison County Commissioners Court approved in a 4-1 vote, Wednesday, a ratification to amend the 2020 fiscal year budget in the amount of $250,000 in support of the construction of the new Marshall Animal Shelter.

The motion was made by Pct. 1 Commissioner William Hatfield and seconded by Pct. 3 Commissioner Phillip Mauldin.

Per the agreement, the payment will not be allocated by the county until construction of the new shelter begins. Upon completion of the facility, the county will be granted a 10-year use for the residents of the county — at no fee.

“The city and county responsibilities overlap in many areas,” County Judge Chad Sims stated. “While the county is under no obligation to pay for animal control or containment, there is a need for it.

“I desire for the county to be a good partner not just for Marshall but for every community in the county,” the county judge said. “I desire to see improvements in facilities, infrastructure and services that will promote a better quality of life and spur economic development. It is my hope that by supporting the building of a new animal shelter, we will be a part of the pro-growth movement that is much needed. Certainly I don’t take lightly the needs of animals and their welfare, but I am also concerned with the improvement of our communities and the county, as a whole. I look forward to seeing the completion of this major project and the improvements it will bring.”

Commissioner Mauldin echoed his sentiments and thanked all who wrote letters, sent emails and visited them personally to voice their concerns and share the passion they have for the animals and the project.

“Your passion is admirable,” said Mauldin. “I know I speak for all the court members to say that none of us want to see animals treated inhumanely, and that we certainly see the need for a new shelter.

“There are a lot of considerations that go into a decision when taxpayers’ money is being spent on any project,” he continued. “Our court has been fiscally conservative and will continue to be. We desire to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. I’m happy to support the shelter in any of their pro-growth projects that benefit our county.”

The existing shelter, built in 1969, is less than 1,500 square feet. Over the last decade, more than 70 percent or around 2,000 animals were euthanized annually and placed in the city’s local landfill.

To become a new low-kill animal shelter and adoption center, more space is needed, city officials have said.

Because the county has drawn so much heat about giving no more than its annual contribution of $39,100 for the operation, members of the court took a moment on Wednesday to set the record straight on their position with the county’s contribution in regard to the new project.

“I would like to take this time to clear up some things,” said Pct. 4 Commissioner Jay Ebarb, who cast the dissenting vote.

“I have never said I was against building a new shelter as has been said, but from a financial standpoint, ‘our house’,” he said, referring to the county, “needed to be in order first before we give money to the city to build what I consider an infrastructure need for the city.”

He said he just thinks it’s a bad financial decision for the county. He feels that the county has priorities that need to be addressed first, before giving money to others.

“We have infrastructure needs, road and bridge facilities and equipment needs and employee salary and employee insurance needs, in my opinion,” he said.

Ebarb further noted that the county has always supported the shelter, annually, even dating back to the 1980s.

“A lot of the other counties we have been compared to do not support their shelters out of their yearly budgets,” he said.

“I have said on numerous occasions in meetings about this that in order for me to support more money to the shelter was to give more services to citizens in the county. This is who I feel we are responsible to also,” he said.

“No shelter trucks or employees go out past city limit signs, so why are we expected to pay for a service that, by law, the county does not have a need for?” Ebarb questioned. “We have no leash law or county animal control law.”

Although supportive of the ratification, Pct. 2 County Commissioner Zephaniah Timmins made it clear that it is not a county-related project.

Timmins said he’s approving the ratification out of support for the city manager.

“I believe that he’s doing some positive things here, within the city of Marshall,” said Timmins.

“I am agreeing to the one-time fee, as I have discussed with those that met with me, for the building of the new animal facility; but the city needs not (to depend on) Harrison County,” said Timmins. “It is a city run and owned facility. It is not a county facility, and I would suggest that they would build something that they can maintain.”

“Don’t build something that might be expecting the county to maintain,” he said.

Timmins said the $39,100 annual payment the county gives for animal shelter services was to be used for emergencies outside of the county, such as responding to a rabid animal.

“We had not used that service out of all these years,” he said.

‘FALSE NARRATIVES’

Referring to the proposal for joint adoption center, Timmins said the statement that the city of Marshall has a history of supporting county capital projects in the recent past, including the renovations of the 1901 historic county courthouse with a donation of $500,000 in 1997, is misleading.

“This was not a county project, and everybody should know and understand that,” said Timmins.

Timmins said the building was not restored with county dollars.

“It was private donors, the (Texas) Historical Commission, and it was the city of Marshall that did this,” he said. “They moved us over here into this building, though I think we were pretty comfortable where we were, in the offices at the 1963 courthouse.

“That’s a false narrative that they are saying that the city helped the county,” said Timmins.

“Somehow, they suggest that we are partners in this animal shelter. Well we are not partners,” he stressed. “Harrison County is here to help support the efforts of the city of Marshall — only.”

Timmins said the notion that more than 60 percent of the animals that come to the shelter typically come from outside the city of Marshall is also false.

“No one has ever proved that,” said Timmins.

Timmins said that it is unfair to compare the county and city to other municipalities because Harrison County does not collect sales tax and has less population than the comparison counties.

Gregg County, for instance, gave a one-time $2.5 million contribution to Longview’s $5.75 million facility that opened July 1, 2016.

“We don’t have the money that Longview has and Gregg County,” said Timmins.

Reading the five goals identified in the city’s strategic plan for the years 2016-2020, Timmins pointed out that it refers to improving the quality of life for citizens — only.

“Nowhere does it say a high quality of life for animals,” the commissioner said. “I will suggest that the city will go back and (review) their five objectives here in this executive summary.”

“We hear false narratives all over this state, country, world,” said Timmins. “We don’t need them in Marshall and Harrison County.”

BLAME GAME

Ebarb, who has been in office for five years, said he’s had numerous meetings with many, including city officials and supporters of the animal shelter. He doesn’t understand why the county is being accused of delaying the construction, when the project had been discussed more than a decade ago.

“The idea of building a new shelter has been talked about long before any of us currently sitting on commissioners court have,” said Ebarb. “The last 10 to 12 years this has been an ongoing conversation and I can’t figure out how over the course of time, it hasn’t been accomplished; but for the last two years or so the only reason that has come up to the failure of getting this project accomplished is that it’s the county’s fault.

“I, for one, don’t understand how this has suddenly become a county problem or our fault,” he said.

Ebarb said just because someone isn’t on the same side of the issue doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

“I don’t feel like I’m right or wrong,” he said. “I based my decision based on facts, figures and percentages. This is something that I didn’t just wake up in the last couple of days and say I wouldn’t support the animal shelter.”

“So I feel that this is a bad investment or money giveaway when we need to be taking care of our own needs first,” he said.

RESERVES/CLAUSE

Ebarb noted that with a budget of close to $30 million a year, the county’s minimum of 90-day reserve should be about $7.5 million. Currently, the county’s reserve is about $5.8 million.

“The recommendation by state is 90 days to 180 days reserve, so we don’t even sit at the minimum 90-day,” said Ebarb.

Ebarb said while Tuesday’s action will give county taxpayers 10 years of guaranteed no cost at the shelter, he hopes that a clause would be included to protect the county’s investment.

“I would ask that if this does indeed pass that it also includes a clause that says that in the event that the city decides to opt out during this 10-year timeframe that the city will have to reimburse the county the $250,000 investment,” he said. “I would also like to see that this is a one-time and that next year when this gets built that we are not on the hook for an increase for added operation cost at this new facility.”