Saturday, December 19, 2020
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The Villages

New Sumter County commissioner pushes hard on controversial issues

Oren Miller

A no-kill animal shelter, an anti-tethering ordinance and a referendum to elect Sumter County commissioners by district instead of at large will be on the agenda of next Tuesday’s regular meeting.

The three controversial issues, brought to the board by newly elected Commissioner Oren Miller, divided commissioners at a recent workshop meeting.

Miller, who has pushed Sumter County to establish a no-kill shelter for five years, continues to spearhead the effort.

He said a no-kill shelter does not mean no animals would be euthanized. Sick or diseased animals and those considered too aggressive for adoption could still be killed and owners would be allowed to surrender their animals to euthanize them.

But shelter animals would not be put to death to create space for more animals.

Miller said a no-kill shelter would not significantly alter the animal services operation, but would allow the county to take advantage of food donations from Chewy and other monetary donations.

Commissioner Gary Search said he supports ongoing efforts to open the shelter to more visitors.

Commissioner Doug Gilpin

But longtime commissioners Garry Breeden and Doug Gilpin said the issue needs more study.

“I do have a concern with the rush to action,” Gilpin said. “What I’m concerned with is an overall hurry.”

The anti-tethering ordinance would make it illegal to tie animals with a rope, chain or similar device. The current ordinance allows tethering if the animal is provided with adequate food and water.

Miller said the ordinance should be enforced only on a complaint basis and not be turned into a “witch hunt.”

Gilpin spoke against the proposed ordinance.

“I don’t think the county should be telling people how to live their lives,” he said. “Every time you make a rule or a change, you take away someone’s ability to do what they want.”

If the Reverse One Sumter referendum is approved, Sumter County commissioners would be elected by voters in their districts instead of by all county voters.

Miller said he has collected more than 11,000 petition signatures, more than the number required, to put the referendum on the ballot.

Electing commissioners by districts would reduce the power of The Villages in these elections and enhance the power of rural voters.

Approving the One Sumter referendum in 2004 established the at-large elections. Four years later, voters rejected a referendum to return to electing commissioners by districts.

Breeden said putting the referendum on the ballot should be done by petitions and not by commissioners.

“I don’t think it’s this board’s place to put it on the ballot,” he said. “If there’s enough interest to put it on the ballot, it should go through the petition process.”

The referendum likely won’t be on the ballot until 2022. An expensive special election cannot be held for this issue, but it can be added to a special election for another purpose. It also could be put on primary or general election ballots, which are not scheduled for nearly two years.

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