MOUNT VERNON — Problems within the cat shelter may jeopardize the county’s dog rescue program, Mount Vernon City Council members learned Monday night.
Commissioner Bob Wise said that working with the Rescue Wagon program, in which dogs are taken to the East Coast for adoption, the county has an 85 percent success rate in finding homes for unwanted dogs. Most counties, he said, have a 25 percent rate.
“If the cat problem is not taken care of, [Rescue Wagon officials] will refuse to take dogs,” he told council members. “They don’t want to be connected to the humane society and the dogs they are shipping to the East Coast. So this is getting more serious.”
The city contributes $3,900 a year to the cat shelter. The county recently ceased to provide funding.
“I think the city is interested in asking why the commissioners are not going to continue to fund the cat shelter,” said Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis.
“No. 1, we are experiencing some budget issues at the county,” said Commissioner Allen Stockberger. “Second, we have heard from many of our constituents that if the cat shelter is not accepting cats, they do not want to fund it if it is not open on a regular, consistent basis for receiving cats.”
Wise said the commissioners’ intent is for the shelter to accept cats every day it is open. The shelter has refused to accept cats at times because it is filled to capacity.
There are about 300 cats in the shelter, but it was unclear if cats living in homes under the shelter’s foster cat program are included in that number or in addition to.
“It’s hard when you have so many cats,” said Commissioner Teresa Bemiller. “It’s hard to euthanize, but they don’t have the room.”
Stockberger said it’s been the policy of the shelter to not euthanize any cat if there’s any chance it could be put out for adoption.
Councilman Bruce Hawkins asked about the overall health of the cats. Stockberger said the county health department has been asked to review the situation.
“There are lots of opinions, lots of allegations, but there doesn’t seem to be any real health violations,” he said.
When asked what it would take for the commissioners to resume funding the shelter, Stockberger replied, “Reversal of those two issues previously mentioned, and a dependable location for residents to drop off cats.”
In discussing the 2010 jail contract, the commissioners said they will be asking for an increase in the amount the city pays to house prisoners in the county jail. Stockberger said union contracts of jail staff call for a 3 percent increase.
“The unions have not chosen to back off that 3 percent,” said Stockberger, adding that the electric bill is $6,000 to $7,000 a month to operate the jail. That number does not include the gas bill. “We anticipate our costs will go up, and we think 3 to 4 percent [increase] is a reasonable request.”
A rate of $60 a day is charged for prisoners from out of county; the city’s rate is $34 a day. Stockberger said that in light of economic conditions, that $60 may have to be lowered.
Councilman Chuck Dice said last year when this same discussion took place, he requested he be kept informed of occupancy rates and lengths of stay for prisoners. He has not received any information in the past year. The commissioners said they do not have the information he’s requesting, as they do not receive the information from the Knox County Sheriff, either. Council members agreed no decision would be reached until the information was provided by the KCSO.
City Auditor Terry Scott spoke about $1.5 million available to the county through Build America Bonds. If the county declines to use the money, it can waive it to the city. If the city does not use the money, it reverts to the state.
The bonds have to be issued by Dec. 31, 2010. Under the program, 45 percent of the interest is refunded to the entity issuing the bonds.
“We have some projects that probably qualify, but we already have funding requests in,” said Stockberger. “We’re inclined to view it favorably to release the money to the city, but we’ll have to review it.”
A brief discussion involved monitoring of downtown parking. The commissioners thought the city’s program was working well; Stockberger said the parking situation for county buildings is the best it’s been in his memory.
Mavis did request the city be notified when events were happening in county offices, such as the John Freshwater hearings, so the parking monitor could be alerted to special circumstances that may require cars to be parked longer than the two-hour limit.
The final item discussed was crosswalks at Chestnut and High streets. Commissioner Teresa Bemiller said traffic is much heavier on Chestnut Street, and it is more difficult to get motorists to realize they need to stop to allow pedestrians to cross. City officials will look into ways to better mark the crosswalk and getting different signage, perhaps fluorescent green, alerting motorists they are approaching a crosswalk.
The commissioners and City Council members meet twice a year to discuss mutual issues. May 10, 2010, was set as the next date for them to meet.