During the public hearing on the Gordon County budget for 2020, a resident expressed complaints regarding Animal Control funds and asked why spay/neuter services were not offered at the facility.
As a native of Calhoun, Laura Dobson's family has lived here for a long time and one of her biggest passions is fighting for animal rights and health, she said. Dobson has been a spay/neuter advocate since 2001, and she thinks that Gordon County Animal Control should sterilize animals before they are adopted, especially with the facility's rising budget.
On Tuesday night, during the Board of Commissioners meeting, a public hearing was hosted as a chance for locals to express their concerns and opinions about the proposed budget for the next year, which would start in July.
Dobson was the only one who signed up to talk, and she specifically addressed the budget for the Animal Control facility. She expressed concerns that the budget for animal control was increasing, however, fewer services are being offered at the new facility as compared to the old one, she said.
In April 2017, the Gordon County Animal Control facility was burned in an electrical fire, completely destroying the entire structure of the building. Since then, the county has rebuilt a facility at the same location, 790 Harris Beamer Road, which was opened for business in November.
Dobson expressed worry that the proposed budget for the next fiscal year allocates $340,149 to the Animal Control Department. The budget for the past 12 months has been $336,655, with the budget before that being $235,656.69.
In response to Dobson incorrectly saying the budget for animal control was increasing by 50 percent, County Administrator Jim Ledbetter said the budget for animal control was only increasing by about $4,000 from last year's budget, referencing the document that is publicly posted on the county's website. Ledbetter's recommended increases in funding are for equipment rental, supplies and facility services.
Before the 2017 fire, Dobson said Animal Control was spaying and neutering animals before they were adopted, though now the responsibility of sterilizing the animal falls upon the shoulders of the adopters. Dobson quoted the 2010 Georgia Sterilization Act when she said it should be the county that is sterilizing their animals.
"The board knows putting the responsibility on the adopter does not work, and in the past, only around 40 percent of adopters actually complied with the law," Dobson said. "You know it doesn't work."
According to the Department of Agriculture, the act says the sterilization may happen one of two ways. First, the service may be provided before the adoption of the animal from a public shelter. The other option is that the shelter may enter into a "written agreement with the person acquiring such animal" to spay/neuter it within 30 days of the adoption (or within 30 days of the sexual maturity of the animal).
Dobson said Mark Murrah, an employee for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, has sent emails and told Dobson that the responsibility for a county to spay and neuter their animals, according to the law, is on the county.
The administrator also said the county was complying with the Georgia Sterilization Act to his knowledge. Ledbetter said that per the most recent adoptions, 97 percent of adopters have complied with the requirement to get their pet fixed within a certain time frame.
"If it can be done in a small modest building with $235,000 a year, why can it not be done with a gorgeous new facility for $340,000 a year?" Dobson asked commissioners. "It makes no sense."
Dobson noted that the center used to post adoptable animals on petfinder.com and on the county website, but currently, she said the county only posts on Facebook.
In response to online posting, Ledbetter said Facebook postings were more effective.
"We're really splitting hairs here," Ledbetter said in defense of Dobson's complaints. "On the county website there's a link to Facebook, and we post our animals there."
Also, Dobson expressed frustration at how the old facility was open on Saturdays and yet it was an uphill battle for the new building to have even temporary Saturday hours. Ledbetter said Sue Henson, director of animal control, was struggling to find weekend volunteers for Saturdays.
Ledbetter also said the county would be reducing adoption fees, and on Wednesday, the county released a notice saying the $85 fee was reduced to $25 for a limited time, with the help of the Animal Rescue League of Northwest Georgia.
Glad to clear the air, Ledbetter said he was thankful for the opportunity to present the facts about the facility, as he's been aware of a lot of false statements regarding the department circling online, such as the rumor that the county refused free spay/neuter services offered by a nonprofit, which he said never happened.
Over 50 sites have begun to serve free meals for all children 18 and younger, continuing the pattern of feeding youth during summer months.
"Kids are still hungry during the summer," said Calhoun City Schools Nutrition Director Kimberly Kiker. "Just because schools are out doesn't mean students aren't hungry."
Kiker said there will be around 30 sites within the city limits that will be offering breakfast and lunch meals for children, including some drop-off sites in local neighborhoods. Calhoun's services began on Monday and will continue until July 26, with breakfast at 9-10:30 a.m. and lunch at 12-1:30 p.m.
The district's summer feeding program will operate out of the Calhoun Primary/Elementary School cafeteria, which will be distributing meals to other locations, Kiker said. Each child is offered one meal for breakfast and one for lunch.
In addition, Gordon County Schools is providing free lunch options for students who live in the county, serving midday meals at 26 school campuses, churches and neighborhoods. The times for GCS lunch dropoffs depend on the location, yet most are in the range of 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
Gordon County will also be providing free meals until July 26.
For both districts' programs, children are not required to be students of the given district, and are not required to register for the free meals.
For a full list of the sites and times within Calhoun/Gordon County that are offering summer feeding programs, visit calhounschools.org/departments/schoolnutrition/summer-feeding-program or gcbe.org/Page/3003.
Keep Calhoun-Gordon Beautiful put on their first annual golf tournament Wednesday afternoon at Fields Ferry Golf Course to celebrate World Environment Day. The purpose of the tournament was to help fund litter clean up days, improve recycling efforts and work with local schools, groups and citizens to build a strong network for environmental awareness.
Typically, the Voluntary Action Center hosts public meals only during lunchtime, but they have been recently considering also serving dinners. So when a group of volunteers offered to help, VAC workers asked decided to see how a dinner event would go over.
On Tuesday evening, the Democratic Party of Gordon County hosted a spaghetti meal at the VAC, serving almost 50 people who walked through the community kitchen's doors.
Amanda Tate, chair of the Democratic committee, said party members contacted VAC Executive Director Stacy Long and asked how they could get involved with the organization and serve the community.
"They asked us if we would do an evening meal to help them collect feedback," Tate said. "They usually serve during the week only at lunchtime, where on average, 80-100 people are served."
Tate said the Democratic Party members arrived at the VAC Tuesday afternoon to start prepping the meal, which was available to anyone who wanted to join. Volunteers served spaghetti, salad, garlic bread and homemade cookies.
Contrary to one of their regular meetings, this event was entirely service-oriented, according to Arthene Bressler, a member of the party.
"This gathering is not about politics," Bressler said. "It's about serving others and bringing people together."
The VAC has yet to decide if they will begin offering regular evening meals, but this was one step in making that decision. Tate hopes to volunteer at other dinners, and she said once the word is spread around, she expects more people will attend these evening meals.