Funding issues raise questions about future of PETworks partnership

Matthew Lane • Aug 25, 2017 at 7:55 AM

KINGSPORT — The future of PETworks: Regional Animal Services is rather uncertain at this point.

At the moment, Kingsport, Sullivan County and Bluff City are joined together in providing animal control and adoption services under the nonprofit, which operates shelters in Kingsport and Blountville.

For years the organization has planned to build a consolidated, modern shelter since its existing facilities are “woefully inadequate” and both in need of “extensive repair.” The final piece of the financial puzzle was for Sullivan County to pitch in $1.1 million toward the construction of a new shelter.

However, the Sullivan County Commission has decided not to allocate any money for that project in this year’s budget, leading some people to believe the partnership is in jeopardy. Others, not so much.

“I think we’ve all got to be together for us to be really successful,” County Mayor Richard Venable said. “We could do the job separately, but the taxpayer money is probably spent better together.”

PETworks has acquired the land for the facility (a 3.5-acre site along East Stone Drive/Highway 11-W just east of Cleek Road) and received financial commitments from Kingsport ($680,000), Bristol ($280,000), and Bluff City ($20,000) for construction.

The project is estimated to cost $3.5 million: $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.

In the most recent draft of the county budget, however, no money is allocated for the project. Staring the commission straight in the eye was $140 million in bonds for the school system and $2 million to settle a lawsuit with Sheriff Wayne Anderson.

Commissioners are expected to approve the 2018 budget on Aug. 31.

“Some folks are really disappointed that the county did not come through with the funding they thought they should,” Venable said. “We had two major budget issues, and the timing was just not here.”

What Sullivan County and Kingsport have to figure out now is, are the two governments going to move forward together on animal control?

“I kind of hope we can,” Venable said. “I think it’s the best way to do it.”

PETworks President Tom Parham said the project was a casualty of the budget process.

“My estimation of what’s going to happen is PETworks, as it is now, will be restructured. So we’ll have city animal control separate from the county animal control service,” Parham said. “I don’t think there’s any way we can stay together under these circumstances.”

Sullivan County Commissioner Joe Herron, who serves on the PETworks board, said the partnership it not dead yet.

“It’s still breathing and (the commissioners) I’ve spoke to would like to keep it together,” Herron said. “I’d like to think level heads will prevail and whatever decision is made, it would be the best for the animals in the county, with the goal of reducing euthanizing and finding forever homes for the animals.”

If PETworks were to split up, Parham said, Kingsport would have to go back to the architect, right-size the building for just the city’s needs and then pull together the funding to construct the facility. It would probably take about a year to bring everything together, Parham said.

Venable said he and Kingsport City Manager Jeff Fleming have had numerous conversations about PETworks and its future and plan to have a meeting before the next PETworks board meeting in September to come up with a plan forward.

In an email sent to the PETworks board on Thursday, Venable wrote the first logical step in this process is to review the intergovernmental agreement governing the establishment of PETworks and determine if that agreement is still good.

Afterwards, all the stakeholders can map a route forward.

“My effort right now is to pull things together to make sure we’re doing our job daily and setting a course for the future,” Venable said.

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