MOUNT CARMEL — Mount Carmel’s animal shelter remains closed, but the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously Thursday to schedule a May 20 public hearing to find out what city residents think about the subject.

The shelter and animal control service in general has become a controversial issue and the subject of multiple heated debates since the BMA received a report earlier this year that the facility where the kennels are located is unsafe and in need of major repairs or replacement.

Police Chief Ken Lunsford Jr. told the BMA one contractor estimated a cost of $40,000 to repair the structure, and another told him he wouldn’t even touch the building.

Earlier this month, City Manager Mike Housewright reported that he had closed the shelter, which is located inside the Mount Carmel Sewer Treatment Plant property. For the time being, Animal Control Officer Sherry Sexton is instructed to transport stray cats and dogs to the Hawkins County Humane Society in Rogersville.

“A service to be proud of has been removed”

On Thursday, however, Vice Mayor Tresa Mawk told the board she is adamantly opposed to shutting down the shelter.

Reading from a statement, she noted that Mount Carmel has had an animal shelter for decades, and she believes it can be remodeled. Transporting strays to Rogersville deprives local residents of the right to pick up their lost animals in their hometown, Mawk added.

“We, among other towns, are now imposing on a shelter already with too many animals, not enough funds and a poor building themselves,” Mawk said. “God bless those (Hawkins County Humane Society) people. May He strengthen their hearts and their spirits for what they do.

“If the Hawkins County shelter is unable to take the animals, what happens to them then? Are they allowed to run free with no care for their well-being?”

Mawk added, “We did have a shelter that provided food, shelter, safety and human companionship. Medical care was provided by citizens out of their pockets. A service to be proud of has been removed. I find this appalling, I feel anger, and I am sad.”

“The moment it was constructed, it was substandard”

Housewright told the BMA that the facility is substandard and unsafe.

“If you all desire to rebuild the facility, that’s fine, but I cannot in good conscience keep people and animals in that facility,” Housewright said. “Just because it has been functional to date doesn’t mean that it was ever safe. As a matter of fact, the moment it was constructed, it was substandard.”

Alderman John Gibson asked that the animal control program be added to the budget workshop scheduled for May 13.

With an annual budget of $66,000 for the program, Gibson noted that the shelter took in only 62 animals in 2020.

“That’s $1,064 per animal that comes through the door,” Gibson said. “There’s cheaper ways that animals can still be taken care of. ... The amount we’re spending on animal control is too much.

“Before we look at anything else with animal control, I think we need to first decide how much money as a town we’re willing to spend on animal control because $66,000 is not the best expenditure in my opinion,” Gibson added.

Gibson asked Lunsford to provide the board with whatever spending and animal population records are available so that it can compare usage and cost figures from previous years.

“Voice their opinion because this is a service to them”

Alderman Steven McLain’s motion to hold a public hearing on the issue at the May BMA meeting was approved 7-0.

McLain said he also agreed with Gibson’s suggestion for a discussion at the budget workshop.

“I’d still like to have a public hearing and let the public voice their opinion because this is a service to them,” McLain said.

“I have a lot of animals myself, and if we enforced our animal control policy, that number of 62 animals would probably go to 620 — if we enforced what we have on the books to do,” he said.

“I’d hate to see a lot of citizens have to go to Rogersville to go pick them up when we’re paying our animal control officer to take them down there.”

May’s regular monthly meeting, which was originally scheduled for May 27, was rescheduled for May 20 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall at the request of Mayor Pat Stilwell.