Sullivan County to leave PETworks by end of year

Matthew Lane • Updated Oct 12, 2017 at 9:44 AM

KINGSPORT — When it comes to animal control, Kingsport and Sullivan County will soon be going their separate ways. At least for now.

Six years ago, Sullivan County, Bluff City and Kingsport joined forces to provide animal control and adoption services throughout their respective boundaries, creating one organization to oversee the two shelters. It was done in an effort to save money, streamline the service and ultimately create a single, larger animal shelter.

Since then, the joint organization (first called SBK and more recently PETworks: Regional Animal Services) has been going down that road.

However, a major stumbling block got in the way earlier this year when Sullivan County — due to financial constraints — was unable to allocate any money toward the construction of the new shelter.

There was just no overcoming that problem.

According to a joint statement released on Thursday by Kingsport and Sullivan County, the Sullivan County Commission plans to consider a proposal to withdraw from PETworks before the end of the year. The proposal will also assign the Blountville shelter to an existing county department just as it was operated in the past.

PETworks will continue as a nonprofit agency but will limit its service area to Kingsport, which will continue the same funding levels as in years past. Sullivan County will provide animal control services for Bluff City, and Bristol will continue to take its animals to the Blountville shelter.

The separation will become final by Dec. 31.

“Each entity will take out what they brought in. It’s amicable,” said Jeff Fleming, Kingsport city manager. “We simply have been unable to integrate the two shelters, and trying to operate them on a separate but equal basis just isn’t practical. It’s depleting our already limited resources.”

PETworks acquired the land for a joint shelter (a 3.5-acre site along East Stone Drive just east of Cleek Road) and received financial commitments from Kingsport ($680,000), Bristol ($280,000), and Bluff City ($20,000) for the construction.

The $3.5 million project would have been funded by $2 million from the participating governments and $1.5 million from private donations and local foundations. To balance the books, PETworks officials requested $1.1 million from Sullivan County.

“With the sheriff’s lawsuit, jail crowding, school facility needs, and other urgent matters, investing in a new animal shelter just wasn’t timely for the county,” said Richard Venable, Sullivan County mayor. “It’s still very important. It just wasn’t something we could do right away.”

According to the joint statement, PETworks plans to continue pursuing its long-term goal of a new shelter on Stone Drive, but it depends on private fundraising. The facility can be designed for the potential addition of other regional partners.

“This reorganization permits us to go forward with a right-sized shelter and take advantage of the strong support from the citizens of Kingsport and other funding sources,” said Tom Parham, president of PETworks. “I fully believe the county will join us at a later date.”

Parham continued by saying a study would be done to determine the right size of the new shelter, that it would not be as large as originally proposed, but that there would be room for expansion if Sullivan County were to come back into the fold at a later time.

The new shelter will be built on the recently purchased East Stone Drive property.

“I hope — and believe — our community will step up as it always has in the past,” Parham said. “Our goal remains to be a no-kill shelter, but we have to have a facility that allows proper housing, medical care and adoption rooms.”

The joint statement said the relationship between Kingsport and Sullivan County is positive, and though this is a separation, it is not a setback.

It’s a return to the existing status pre-2011, Parham said.

“The two organizations will continue to work side by side for the betterment of our animals and for the health, safety and efficiency of operations,” Parham said. “I’m hopeful that the eventual regional consolidation will continue to be evaluated.”

If you’re interested in helping to achieve a new, state-of-the-art PETworks Animal Center, call (423) 360-8092.

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