Three Sumter County commissioners Tuesday night unanimously rejected a $553,000 design contract to build a $4.2-million animal services and adoption center.
They also will revisit the county’s year-old no-kill shelter policy at a February workshop meeting. The no-kill policy means that only sick or aggressive animals are euthanized.
The contract rejection came after speakers during the public forum portion of the meeting criticized commissioners for planning to spend more on animals than ambulances.
It also occurred while Commissioner Oren Miller, a long-time advocate of the no-kill policy, is suspended from the board of commissioners. Miller and Commissioner Gary Search were suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis after they were charged with perjury during an investigation into possible violations of Florida’s Sunshine Law.
Commissioner Garry Breeden said the proposed welcome center is an example of the higher costs resulting from the no-kill policy.
He said 107 animals were in the shelter Tuesday morning, including 21 held for three months, 16 for six months and two for a year.
“I don’t know if we’re building a hotel or a jail,” he said. “I don’t oppose building an improved facility for adoption. I just don’t think it has to be a $5-million facility.”
Breeden said the county should replace no-kill with a socially conscious shelter policy.
Commissioner Doug Gilpin said he agreed with Breeden.
“The (no-kill) policy that the majority of commissioners approved last year has been a disaster,” Gilpin said.
Of 94 dogs in the shelter, he said, 25 are considered friendly and adoptable.
Gilpin said Sumter County’s older residents want to adopt small dogs, not large dogs or hunting dogs.
County Chairman Craig Estep, who supported the no-kill policy last year, said he was shocked at the design and welcome center cost.
“I have to agree with the fact that it’s too much money right now,” he said. “We have ambulances to buy and personnel to hire.”
Several speakers criticized county officials for not moving faster to transfer the ambulance service to the Sumter County Fire Department after commissioners approved it four months ago. The Villages has ordered ambulances and plans to have The Villages Fire Department take over the ambulance service by the Oct. 1 deadline.
“The perception is that we’ve dragged our feet for some time now,” said Kenneth Nodel.
Villager Marilyn Iskra said the no-kill policy will cost taxpayers money and should be replaced with socially conscious shelter standards.
“Our shelter will become no more than an overcrowded animal warehouse,” she said.
Spending money on an animal adoption center and not on ambulances “puts animals ahead of humans,” said Mike Roche.
William Steele said the county should use shelter designs from other counties instead of buying its own design.
“They (animals) don’t need to live in a palace,” he said.
Several speakers said they were surprised that, according to a newspaper article, the cost of the shelter had risen from $100,000 to $4.2 million. County Administrator Bradley Arnold said the $100,000 figure was just a place-holder pending a cost estimate, adding that the newspaper is not the authority on the county budget