On a 3-1 vote, Sumter County commissioners Tuesday night approved negotiations with an architect to design an animal adoption and welcome center.
They selected MLM-Martin Architects of Maitland from among four firms that submitted proposals.
The project cost is undetermined and the firms were ranked by an evaluation committee on their qualifications, experience and approach to the project.
Part of an effort to reduce the county animal shelter population, the adoption center could boost adoptions and make the process smoother.
In late September, nearly 200 animals were at the shelter. The average length of stay has risen to 12.79 days from 3.09 days three years ago. The adoption rate has increased, but transfers to rescue organizations are down.
Two weeks ago, commissioners approved two measures to reduce the population.
The first sets stays at five days for chipped, tagged or collared animals and three days for unidentified animals before transfer to an adoption or rescue organization. The second treats all healthy cats picked up as feral cats. They are neutered, vaccinated and released back into the neighborhoods where they are found.
Last December, commissioners voted to designate the shelter as no-kill, which means only sick or aggressive animals are euthanized.
Casting the lone vote against the adoption center, County Chairman Garry Breeden said the need to spend more money could be a direct result of the no-kill decision, which he opposed.
He said Lake County spent $8 million to upgrade animal services after its shelter was designated no-kill.
“Are we going down that path?” Breeden said. “I have a problem approving a design process without knowing what it will cost. We’re not going to design a building that we’re not going to build.”
County Administrator Bradley Arnold said the cost will be based on the needs as determined through the architectural process.
“We can swag a number, but I’d prefer to move forward with the design process,” he said, adding that process is better than trying to retrofit later.
Commissioner Oren Miller said the adoption center is needed and he supports “anything we can do to improve the conditions down there.”