Upshur County Commissioners Court informally decided Friday to further study a controversial proposal to potentially lease a county barn to a nonprofit organization for a no-kill animal shelter.
After citizens and court members debated whether to lease the Pct. 2 barn on North Hwy. 155 near Ore City for possible use by the Upshur County Hope House for Pets, County Judge Dean Fowler said the court would do “some more studying” and try to provide the organization some help.
He urged the proposed shelter’s supporters to inspect all four county-owned precinct barns. He also noted that law requires a bidding process for leasing one.
Shelter supporters pointed to the county’s problem with stray or tortured animals—including the danger they pose other animals—and cited objections to taking them to shelters in Longview or Tyler.
But the proposal encountered opposition from County Engineer Eric Fisher, among others. He objected it would have “a direct impact” on road and bridge operations.
Shelter supporter JoAnn McKay cited the large number of animals “left by the side of the road to starve” or which are tortured. If taken to the Longview shelter, they are euthanized, she said.
Ms. McKay asked the court to donate the Pct. 2 barn, saying many volunteers would staff a shelter and that the organization would pay its expenses.
Diane Watts said she heard the Longview and Tyler shelters are full, and that she would have to drive an hour and a half and pay $75 to place an animal there. She said a shelter would “be a great thing for this community.”
And Lou Hewitt complained that strays are “attacking our cattle,” and that goat owners must keep their animals right behind their homes.
But, speculating “there’s a false impression” the county no longer uses its precinct barns, Fisher said it stores materials and equipment in the Pct. 2 barn, where work is performed and brush is burned in the yards. He said all county barns house assets.
He said the Pct. 2, 3 and 4 barns all have direct highway access or are near a road, and that if the county wants to lease a precinct barn, it should be the Pct. 1 facility on Goldfinch Road, which is “in the sticks.”
“They couldn’t keep animals in that building, could they?” Fowler asked (he later said that barn was not in “very good shape.”) Replied Fisher, “A barn’s a barn. They’re all relatively the same.”
However, Pct. 1 Comm. James Crittenden objected that his precinct’s barn is heated by a wood-burning stove and would have to be rebuilt if used as a shelter.
Crittenden said other precinct barns would accommodate a shelter. He also said the nonprofit group had a veterinarian (Dr. Cherie Nazzal, who was present but did not speak) “on board,” as well as several volunteers.
Crittenden said leasing a barn would relieve the county of the cost of insurance on the building, and that it would probably result in spaying/neutering being offered at a discount.
Responded Fisher, “What’s more important—road construction or stray animals?” Several more in the audience appeared to say animals than roads.
L.E. Rinehart objected that establishing the shelter would amount to “tree huggers moving in,” and said shelter supporters will “want more and more and more.” Dan Miles Jr. also sided with Fisher, saying the court was “gutting the precincts” on road work, and asked “When is the court going to allow this man to do his job?”
Pct. 3 Comm. Lloyd Crabtree raised the idea of moving his precinct’s equipment to the precinct’s sand pit, thus freeing that precinct’s barn.
“I certainly see the need for an animal shelter,” Crabtree said. But, noting the court wouldn’t contract with Gregg County to house stray animals, he asked if it was willing to spend more than that amount now.
Fowler said that if a facility is properly leased, the county has no liability. When Rinehart asked if he could bid on it, the judge said yes.
Fisher accepted Fowler’s request to estimate a cost for moving the Pct. 3 sand and oil-mixing operations to the sand pit, and building a shed there.
Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer suggested using the Pct. 1 or Pct. 3 barn for the shelter. Crabtree said the Pct. 2 and 4 barns “are in my mind off the table.”
As the discussion ended, Spencer said the issue needs addressing, but the court has “just got to find the best way to do it.”