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Chatham commissioner Sally Kost wanted to give county land to "Guardians of Angels" for free

Posted Wednesday, October 9, 2013

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Pittsboro, NC - During the December 3, 2012 Chatham County commission meeting there was a discussion about Chatham County providing free land to the Guardians of Angels, a private non-profit group. Below are the minutes from that meeting concerning the subject.

Commissioner Kost stated that the County owns a 97-acre site adjacent to the Central Carolina Community College. The Guardians of Angels has requested a land donation on which to develop an adoption center. Given that we have no money in our Capital Improvements Plan to upgrade or improve the existing Animal Control shelter and that we have a purpose with the vet tech program and the need to have places for these technicians to perform internships, it seems to be a good fit with the community college. There is no plan to use the full 97 acres. The site plans for the new Ag Center took up a small amount of the land. It could be located in such a way that it is close to the highway. It would be within the corporate limits of Pittsboro so there would be utilities. There are some issues including leasing the land or how it will be done, but she doesn’t think the issues are insurmountable. She thinks it is a good fit and it can be structured in such a way to protect the County and to insure that it is successful. There are a lot of people who are ready to volunteer and get it done. We know that the euthanasia rates are 70% for cats and 50% for dogs. This is chance for the County to reduce those rates and it is a great public-private partnership. She stated that she would like to see the Board move forward with this, get all of the issues on the table, and work through them with the attorneys, community college, and the Board of Commissioners.

Chairman Petty stated that he didn’t doubt the need for it; however, it is the location, site and request. He stated that there was a misunderstanding regarding the size and scope of the project and that the email was misleading. Most people do understand the size and scope of the issue and the need for it. He stated that he felt, as a nonprofit agency, it should go through normal nonprofit channels and that the level they were asking for was the extent of the entire nonprofit budget with the exception of transportation.

Commissioner Bock stated that he felt it was a great idea to have this in the County. As an adoptive parent of a care dog, he is all for not euthanizing dogs. He stated that where he has a problem as a Commissioner is the land is being talked about as if it is free land that can be given away. It is roughly $55-60,000. The request is not to give excess land, the request is to donate $60,000 to the shelter. This is taxpayer dollars which he has to seriously consider. The plan states that they have to raise $1.5 million to make it successful. He asked himself why not raise one million five hundred fifty thousand. Why is that $50,000 so critical when roughly $15,000 to date has been raised? He stated that having land in place is not going to solve the problem and it would set a bad precedent for donating land to nonprofits. There are many nonprofits in the County who do wonderful work, all of which would love to have a $60,000 donation from the County. This cannot be done. He stated that he has concerns on the precedent it would set and also has concerns on the amount of money that would need to be raised to make it successful, the operation of it, and what happens if the land is donated, the building is built, and the operational money is not there to make it work. Does the County take it over? If so, it becomes another County function which he sees as a slippery slope that he would love to see happen through private money, but he has trouble supporting from the County level.

Commissioner Kost stated that she sees this as a double standard as a discussion was just held about giving away land in downtown Pittsboro where land is even more valuable for the 9/11 memorial. We didn’t talk about that nonprofit buying the land. Animal Control is a function of County government. We are not putting the resources into the shelter to do what we need to be doing. This is a chance for a nonprofit to do it and she thinks they need to be given some help to make it happen.

Commissioner Cross stated that he is good with the property, but wants to hear more from the Central Carolina Community College regarding the vet tech program and whether it can happen. He stated that the bigger picture the Board needs to look at is a plat map of how much actual room the facility would take. First, he said, the Board needs to decide what direction Animal Control is going in the County. Now we euthanize. This group does not euthanize. Are we going to have two facilities? Are we going to take an animal that is not adoptable, possibly born blind and pay someone to care for it for twenty years? We also have other nonprofits in the County that do the same work. Can this be a joint operation with the County? With all the nonprofits who are into adopting dogs gives more people to raise money and more people to volunteer and serve in the facility. He stated that he feels they need to work out the bigger problems before they worry about the details of the property. He stated that he feels that there is adequate space between the community college and the ag building, on the connector road to the college in the wetlands, which could be used to build dog runs and dog walks. He stated that the County is going to be asked for money from the nonprofits regardless of what they do with this issue; however, he doesn’t feel that they can pick one nonprofit over another that does the same job in the County, and that he would like to see a partnership between those who do this if they are going to go this route. He stated that he would like to see the Board decide if the County is going to become a no-kill County.

Chairman Petty stated that the Health Department has not been involved in this at all. There are multiple agencies or groups doing the same thing. Where you put your focus and energy have to be narrowed down. Those are all questions that can be worked through; however, the matter at hand is the request for acreage on the college campus. The extent of the night’s discussion was whether we were to provide that or not. He stated that he feels there is still room for additional discussions on how we address this, bring the agencies together, and involve the community college with their tech program.

Commissioner Cross stated that he feels the best we could say is that the Board is listening and willing to look at it. He stated that they also need to consider is what the facility is going to look like as it has to match up with the agricultural building architecture.

Rev. Terry Dorsey explained that the cost of building an SPCA is somewhere in the range of $200 per square foot. After visiting SPCA in Carteret County and Paws Forever in Orange County, they have seen that there is never enough room. This is one small part of the solution. He encouraged everyone to visit the County’s animal shelter. It is an old rough, metal building and is in pretty bad shape. It has very few runs. No one in the shelter wants to euthanize animals. It is hard to euthanize them as continually as they do. It is hard when the animals don’t have any place to play. It makes them much less adoptable. CARE does great work and they applaud their efforts. They can start solving this problem by doubling the spay and neuter allocation that was given the shelter last year. The adoption center, no matter how large it is built, will always fill up with animals. You have to eventually have a conversation about licensing, increasing spay/neuter resources (especially to the economically challenged). There are other things that can be done like tethering ordinances where dogs can only be tied up for so long. There are a lot of things that can be done. With regard to the question about the price, it is approximately $1.2 million. What they are gearing into that is start-up funding which includes the first two years of operation. They are not going into this blindly. They have been doing a lot of homework and research. They are talking to a lot of organizations who have already done this. They very much want to be in partnership with the County. At the SPCA in Raleigh and all the others they have visited, the County pays the Humane Society to take adoptable animals out of the shelter. They are an adoption center, not a shelter, as the shelter has laws they need to enforce, and strays they need to pick up. They deal with whole different level of animal issues, which in this County, are not good. They are talking about the next level of caring for animals, as well as building the relationship they have already discussed, in terms of internships for the vet tech program, volunteer opportunities for senior citizens, etc. You can always get subjective about who you help and who you don’t. This, he stated, personally comes from his faith and these are lives.

Commissioner Cross stated that the Board has a responsibility to the all citizens. He stated that he is not saying that they shouldn’t help the Guardians of Angels; however, he is saying that if they are going to do a "save the dogs and cats nonprofits", we should include everyone in the County who does that.

Mr. Dorsey said he hopes that we do. He stated that he hoped it would include a partnership with everyone who would benefit from it.

Commissioner Cross stated that he feels the community college, Guardians of Angels, CARE, and County Manager or appointee have a meeting and sketch out what they are talking about.

Commissioner Stewart stated that she would like to see what they are proposing and some of the details. She stated that she agrees with Commissioner Cross in setting precedence about giving away the land. She thinks there would have to be a discussion among the Commissioners about the best way to approach it. She said she would be more in favor of a lease of the land.

Rev. Dorsey stated that they have talked about that and it was very acceptable and is done in a lot of places. There have been discussions with the Health Department and they have had several discussions with Animal Control. They are not a rescue group. CARE does great work, but they are on a different track and are something from which CARE would benefit. This would also be good for business in the County. On the day they visited the Raleigh SPCA, they were busy all day long. It brings people to the County which is another issue. The town will have to be developed in order to grow economically. We have to have things that bring people to this town. This has been an on-going discussion for five years. He stated he would be very happy to set up a meeting with their president who is experienced in detailing this from a legal standpoint, Dr. Allen who has spoken with the head of the vet tech program, and others. He stated that on their website, there are pictures and cost estimates, letters of support, etc. It is done all over the country whether as a lease or donation and is not an issue. They are bringing value to the town and County in the form of a very usable building which could, if for some reason they did not make it, could still be used by the community college. Somewhere you have to subjectively say it is good for people and good for animals and saves lives. In this case, on the college campus, it would be good for the community college program. It could blend with the ag program. The centers they visited had adoptive cows and horses, as those situations sometimes arise.

Commissioner Cross stated he agrees with what is being said. He stated that Commissioner Bock has a "care dog" and his family has four dogs and three cats; however, this has not been thought out and discussed with all the right people yet. In order to get him on board, he stated that they would have to get the group together and come back to the Board and show a sketch of what they are planning to do.

Rev. Dorsey stated that they had had the discussions with the Health Department, community college, and the County Manager of which they have approved. He asked for a specific list of questions or issues the Board would like addressed stating that he would address them. He stated this had been an on-going conversation in the County for five years.

Commissioner Bock stated that he felt, in all fairness, anyone would be in favor of the idea. He is in favor of a "no-kill" adoption center. No one would publicly be against it. The Board just bought the land and doesn’t yet know what it wants to do with it long term. Based on some of the things just said, he asked why not locate it closer to the current animal shelter rather than be right on Highway 64? He said that the amount of money raised to date bothers him as well.

Rev. Dorsey said that they have not hired a capital campaign firm yet because all of the campaign people they have spoken with say the best bet is to get the County involved in a partnership, allowing people to know it’s rooted. He stated that he was a mission developer. It is the same with churches. As soon as you buy land, you skyrocket. Before then, you are not tangible. He stated that his philosophy of government is that they can work together and that they do make decisions together based on their priorities. Part of the problem with Pittsboro is that the government is buying all the land. There is not a lot available. He stated that he thought the land purchase next to the community college was a great purchase. It was a great price, and it was the kind of forethought that is expected out of government. This is all doable from a legal and community college standpoint. If specific answers are desired, Rev. Dorsey stated that he would go "fetch" them. Everyone they have talked to including citizens in the County, are for this. Other counties around Chatham have done this with great success. We are talking about the lives of living beings which he feels takes priority.

Commissioner Bock stated that this is a discussion that he feels we should have; however, he thinks when "partnership" is mentioned, it almost sounds like they are asking for the Board to do it the way they want, where they want it or the County is not cooperating.

He stated that he feels that the County is willing to cooperate and work with Guardians of Angels. They might not get support from all Commissioners that want to give the five acres. The County has land in Siler City.

Rev. Dorsey stated that their goal is to do it. It was at Commissioner Cross’ request that they checked into a relationship with the community college.

Commissioner Bock stated that if they are not fixed on a particular piece of land, there is more likelihood that they can come to an agreement at some point.

Rev. Dorsey said that they would be happy to talk with the Board about it. The original discussion they had with the "new" Board was the Business Park which is quite empty. He stated that he lives in Siler City, and it needs all the help it can get.

Commissioner Kost stated that she feels it needs to be located in the center of the County. For the eastern part of the County, Siler City is a forty-five minute drive. She said that she thinks it needs to be strategically located in the County seat, in the center of the County, which is Pittsboro.

Rev. Dorsey stated that was the recommendation of Animal Control who came up with this idea. They are very interested in a partnership. What normally happens is that the Human Society takes the adoptable animals out for a period of time and does their best to match them with life-long homes.

The County Manager stated a lot of things have been mentioned and they are all good. He stated that from staff perspective, if they go through a nonprofit budget process, ninety-five percent of the questions about finance, on-going relationships, etc. will be part of the discussion. The recommendation will come to the Board from the committee as do other nonprofits. Is the best site those five acres? It might or might not be.

Chairman Petty stated that he felt it should follow the nonprofit channels as to funding. He stated that he doesn’t think there is a question regarding support for it. He thinks the questions are about where and to what level. He thinks it could be setting a bad precedence and the gates would be opened for other people to walk in and ask for equal value for their association, group, or agency. The Board would like to see the involvement that has taken place with the community college, Health Department, etc.

Rev. Dorsey stated that they would work with the Board on that as it is a fair criticism. He stated that they were happy to do the legwork; however, that is the burden of government. They have to discern what is important. He stated that he could not take that burden away from the Commissioners as the Board has his kind thoughts and prayers. They will be happy to talk, work, discuss, go through channels, or whatever they need to do. They have gotten the idea that there is no land available. So now that land is available, it becomes a matter of if they are a worthy, nonprofit. He stated that he feels they are and he thinks some land is available. He stated he would be very happy to talk about what they can do in Siler City including the facility at the Business Park.

Chairman Petty stated that he thinks they may need direction as to the Board of Commissioners’ level of participation.

Commissioner Bock suggested that they go through the nonprofit process. In the meantime, we need to decide which direction the Board needs to go long-term.

Mr. Dow stated that he had known Rev. Terry Dorsey for a while and he is an advocate for the animals. Everyone has to be pointed in the right direction. What makes this a little different from a nonprofit standpoint is that Animal Control is a governmental function. What Rev. Dorsey is trying to do is merge onto that. The symbiotic relationship needs to be explored. He stated that he would commit his time and resources to work with the County Attorney and do whatever it takes to get this project going for Chatham County. He stated that he would like to see the Commissioners say that it is worthwhile, that they are willing to participate, and they are committed to find out what the level of participation might be.

By consensus, the Board agreed.

Chairman Petty reiterated that the Health Department needs to be involved.

Rev. Dorsey stated that government has gotten so thick in so many places, that it is hard for them to step out of the bounds of their duties, rules, and regulations. He stated that he had met with the Health Director on several occasions. Everyone in government with which he has spoken is for the proposal. Very often, however, the ordinary citizen does not understand how it works. He stated that he respects the Board very much, but he often does not get a response when he emails the Commissioners or phone calls are not returned which makes it hard. He asked for more interaction and stated that he would get the Board the answers to their questions.

Commissioner Bock volunteered to be a liaison between the Board and the Guardians of Angels.

Commissioner Kost stated that this was an issue about which she cared deeply. She asked that the rest of the Board be copied on all correspondence.

Rev. Dorsey stated that he was grateful for the discussion.

Commissioner Kost asked if this item was going to be placed on a future work session.

By consensus, the Board agreed to bring it back at their January 22, 2013 Board of Commissioners’ meeting.

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Chatham commissioner Sally Kost wanted to give county land to "Guardians of Angels" for free

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