A hopeful note was raised at the Dec. 1 Quorum Court special meeting when an offer was made for the animal shelter to be taken over, with certain terms, by an existing not-for-profit corporation.

The corporation, “SNYP Arkansas” is one focused on spaying and neutering animals. Its head, Lori Treat, offered for the corporation to take over shelter operations providing certain terms were agreed to by the Court, empaneled that evening for the second reading of an ordinance which would close the shelter by June should an additional funding source not be found.

The offer made to the court by Treat was for it and the city to rent the building to the corporation “for a nominal fee.” Attendant in the offer was that the current head of the shelter, Rita Tharp, remain as a county employee reporting to the sheriff, the county to also cover the expenses of the truck Tharp operates in performing animal control functions.

Tharp has a law enforcement function while acting as an animal control officer. With her salary and operating vehicle expense moved from the shelter to the county - the Sheriff’s office was proposed, the shelter’s 2017 budget went from over $111,000 to just over $59,000. In the proposal, the shelter would become self-sustaining within two years.

Quorum court members were quick to respond to the officer, and those that spoke did so favorably, to the offer. Judge Hooper pointed out this was closer to the operating parameters of such public-facing county institutions as the library.

Inclusive to the offer was that SNYP Arkansas would put a operating room in at the shelter in order to provide spay and neuter services on site. Treat said she already had the equipment to do this, and was willing to donate it to the facility, all in light of what she called a “passion” for effective spaying and neutering programs. She also pointed out that should this plan be accepted by the Court and Clinton City Council, this would make the shelter only the second one in the state with a spay and neuter operating room on site, the other being in Eureka Springs which, she told the court, is operating successfully.

The shelter in its current operating environment came to be after a 2003 agreement between the City of Clinton and Van Buren County to provide for animal control, named as an “Animal Control Shelter” in the ordinance passed by the Court that year.

In that 2003 agreement, the facility operated on a budget of just under $40,000, with the city paying half and the county the remaining half. The arrangement between the city and county was outlined in a Memo of Understanding between the two bodies, which further called for a yearly meeting by representatives of both the city and county to establish funding for the coming year. Other cities in the community were not listed as participants. (Fairfield Bay has its own animal shelter, operated by the city per its 2017 budget.)

Since then the budget for the shelter has grown to over $150,000 in 2016 and projected to be roughly $111,000 in 2017. The ordinance which led to Treat’s offer, proposed by Justice Randy Story, was for the shelter to operate for six months, the county supplying half the projected budget, and shutting down at the end of that six-month period.

City of Clinton Mayor Richard McCormac stated to both the court and attendees, that he was willing to propose a $35,000 expense for the shelter for the city’s 2017 budget, the final acceptance of which would be dependant upon the vote of the City Council. He acknowledged the yearly meetings for the review of shelter expense had not taken place since, apparently, 2003.

The presentation which followed, his, by Treat, made the funding issue something of a moot as the shelter would be, under the proposed terms, taken over by the not-for-profit corporation and with a transition period of much lower direct-expense to the county and city. Treat also pointed out to the court that the SNYP as an established not for profit had greater access to grants than would a recently-formed not for profit, as some grants require a time in service prior to considering a grant request.

The Quorum Court members discussed, with apparent favor, how they could implement this plan, and the required time line, in light of the forthcoming need to approve the county’s 2017 budget at the next Quorum Court meeting. The tentative plan was for a new ordinance to be drafted which would undertake Treat’s proposal and the existing de-funding ordinance to be, perhaps, tabled.

The meeting adjourned with a tentative plan for a working group to meet regarding the SNYP Arkansas proposal and preparing an ordinance for same Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 9 a.m. This ordinance would then be presented to the Court at its regular third-Thursday meeting, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. At that meeting a procedure could be called which would allow the ordinance to be voted for pass or fail at that same meeting, allowing the ordinance to be in place to meet the county’s 2017 budget, expected to be voted upon at the same meeting.

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