By Karen Middleton
The city of Athens will no longer maintain an animal shelter.
On Monday night, the City Council voted 3-2 to enter a contract with local veterinarian Robert Pitman to provide a facility and personnel to house impounded dogs and cats at a cost of $55,800 per year.
Councilman Jimmy Gill and Council President Henry White voted against the measure.
Gill and Councilman Harold Wales had studied the cost of building a new shelter. They had first recommended locating the shelter on the grounds of the old Athens Recycling Center off Stewart Drive, but residents complained that the noise of barking dogs would disturb mourners at nearby Roselawn Cemetery.
Next, they recommended building a shelter on city-owned property on Seven Mile Post Road. However, this choice met with opposition by the Humane Society and representatives of the Whitt Fund, a benevolent fund that provides funding to the city for animal welfare, as being too far out of the way for most residents.
“This was one of the first issues we dealt with when I came on the council two years ago,” said Wales. “The Seven Mile Post Road location was not popular with the public, neighbors or the Humane Society. It’s time to put this issue behind us and move on.”
Gill questioned why the contract for animal services was not put up to the bid process, but Mayor Dan Williams said professional services do not have to follow the state bid law.
Councilman Ronnie Marks requested that the resolution be amended to say it would go into effect by Dec. 1. The mayor said he would recommend that an animal-shelter employee be transferred to the maintenance department of the new police station, so he would not lose his job. Animal Control Officer Ron Ultz and his assistant also work in city-code enforcement.
“Financially, I believe this is better for the city and it also provides better care for the animals,” said Marks.