This story was updated Nov. 21, 2018, at 12:06 p.m. with more information.
With Hamilton County's $10 million commitment approved, Chattanooga Humane Educational Society Board Chairman Dr. Tai Federico said Wednesday that his goal is for the new animal shelter to be open in January 2021.
Federico said the private, nonprofit organization will form a building committee and meet before Christmas to start the process. He said groundbreaking should take place in the summer of 2019 on the 36,000-square-foot facility and that there were numerous supporters in the engineering/construction fields ready to assist.
"I am ecstatic," Federico said Wednesday. "This will be the best $10 million the county has ever spent. The commission and the mayor have given us the chance to do even a better job taking care of our animals. The love and care for the animals never changes, but the facility is critical to the process."
The Hamilton County Commission on Wednesday morning voted 8-1 to approve up to $10 million to fund a new animal shelter for the humane society. Eight commissioners supported Mayor Jim Coppinger's recommendation; Commissioner Tim Boyd passed. Passing on a vote constitutes a "no" vote under the law.
The final vote was met with applause from supporters and volunteers who crowded into the commission room.
"These are passionate people tending to the crazy," Federico said. "We could not do what we do without them every day of the week."
The commitment of cash is the largest the county has made since its total contributions of $46 million to Volkswagen a decade ago, according to the county finance department. The organization will draw funds from the account as planning and construction for the new facility move forward.
The new shelter will be built on 6.8 acres in the area of Amnicola Highway and Highway 153 and replace the 118-year-old building on Highland Park Avenue. The estimated cost is $13 million.
The $10 million in general tax revenue will come from a capital projects fund created when the commission approved its first property tax increase in a decade on Sept. 6, 2017. The one-time windfall was created because of the timeframe between the time the county issued the bonds in March 2018 and when projects funded by the tax increase required debt service payments.
On Tuesday, supporters of the project sent an email saying that Commissioner Chip Baker was promoting a delay in the project. Baker addressed the issue at the beginning of Wednesday's meeting. He recounted his timeline on learning of the project and was concerned that no discussions had taken place with the city of Chattanooga and McKamey Animal Center about a future partnership. The Humane Educational Society provided animal control for both the city and county before McKamey opened.
"My recommendation was going to be that we take a short pause and create a small committee to talk with the city," Baker said. "I wanted to see if there was a willingness to work together.
"Are there cost savings to be achieve? Are their missions similar? There was no operating budget for the new facility, no schematics."
Baker said he reconsidered bringing a delay forward after he learned that a major donor for the new animal shelter had threatened to withdraw a donation if the resolution was not approved.
Federico confirmed Baker's story but declined to give the name of the donor.
The humane society provides animal control services for unincorporated areas of Hamilton County as well as most smaller cities in Hamilton County, and data shows the agency has improved its performance in all major categories over the past five years.
The county pays the society $620,970 annually, a third of its $1.9 million budget. The private, nonprofit organization, which raises more than $1 million in private donations annually, took in 4,929 animals in 2017. Seventy two percent of those came from unincorporated Hamilton County and the rest from smaller municipalities.
Contact Davis Lundy at email@example.com.