Longview animal shelter progress slow but steady
Jan. 9, 2014 at 11 p.m.
In the year since a task force presented recommendations to the City Council to help address soaring intake and euthanasia rates at Longview's animal shelter, design has gotten underway, a location has been narrowed down and money has been committed to building a new facility.
Questions remain unanswered, however, as to who will run the new shelter and what other Gregg County cities, if any, will support Longview and the county in the facility's construction and operation.
Members of the task force said this week that they are generally pleased with the progress the city has made in the year since the group submitted recommendations.
"So far, I think they are doing all they can do," said local veterinarian Dr. Ken Glaze, chairman of the task force.
Dr. Hall Griffin, another veterinarian, said that despite a couple of concerns, he believes the council and city staff are working hard to move a new shelter forward.
"I am pleased that the city seems to be working hard on the task. I think they are putting diligent effort in," Griffin said.
Alicia Nolte, a task force member who has raised money in the past to help build a new shelter and has been vocal about concerns with the current location, said she trusts the council and the process.
"I am very happy with our City Council. I think that their questions and their concerns have been addressed. I have belief in the system. I think that they have had their questions addressed and they see the need," Nolte said.
For decades, the city of Longview has contracted with the Humane Society of Northeast Texas for animal sheltering services.
The group operates a shelter in the 300 block of Enterprise Street that is used by Gregg County, its cities and other area municipalities.
In early fall 2012, Mayor Jay Dean announced the formation of the Save the Animals task force - also called the Animal Shelter Task Force - to address concerns of high intake numbers, soaring euthanasia rates and an aging shelter.
The task force first met Sept. 5, 2012, and worked through the year to form recommendations.
Members of the task force met each week, and even took a trip in October 2012 to Chattanooga, Tenn., to tour the McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center.
On Jan. 10, 2013, Glaze presented the group's recommendations during a council meeting.
Since that time, the council passed a resolution accepting the recommendations, hired an architectural firm to design the structure and narrowed the selection of a shelter location.
In passing the fiscal year 2013-14 budget, Gregg County earmarked $2.5 million for the facility that is estimated to cost about $5 million.
Kristen Ishihara, chairwoman of the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee for the city, voiced a common theme among members of the task force.
"Of course I wish we had something built yesterday," Ishihara said. "But, it really is their job to do due diligence."
Task force members Stuart Russell, Dr. Kenneth Kimbrough, Dr. Bart Owen, Daryl Williams and Sherry Fisher were not able to be reached for comment this week.
Ishihara said she believes the major provisions of the recommendations had been accepted "wholeheartedly" by the council, and that the community and council all seemed to be in consensus to build a new shelter.
Task force member Sue Martin echoed that statement.
"They listened very diligently. Everybody on the City Council was very open-minded, because you know animals don't vote and a lot of people don't listen," Martin said.
David Frye, a task force member who helps run Pick of the Litter, an animal rescue in Longview, said he understands the obstacles that slowed progress.
"I think they have done well," he said. "I can't judge them for not moving faster. I wish it was going faster because of the passion I have for animals, and a new shelter like that would give them such a better shot."
During its several-month mission, the animal task force was unable to recommend a location for a new shelter.
"The task force recommends that the shelter be located in an area that will promote the public's visitation and involvement with the future shelter. As such, we ask that such factors be considered, along with the property's availability, cost, and expandability," members wrote in their official recommendations to the council. "The task force originally voted to recommend that the generous offer of the Humane Society of Northeast Texas' 4.3 acre site located along H.G. Mosley be accepted; however, task force members have requested other potential locations be considered for construction of the new facility at council's discretion."
Task force members still voice differing opinions on location.
"I don't think they should be spending any time looking for another location," Frye said. "That land is as close to perfect for it as they could get."
"I believe that it is landlocked. We need to build for tomorrow's needs, not for today's needs," she said.
The current location is near Lear Park and would be donated by the humane society.
"I don't approve (of the property) ... I understand that that is all they have probably gotten donated, but I feel the property area was too small," Martin said. "I hope in the next five years we haven't outgrown the facility. Build it much bigger in a place much larger than you think you are going to need."
Frye said he would have liked to have seen the council move forward sooner with the task force's seventh recommendation, which is to hire a manager to help throughout the process.
Longview Mayor Jay Dean and Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said they are happy with the progress made in 2013.
"As far as how fast or how slow the process is moving, I think it is right on track," Dean said. "We are now in the phase of having the architectural firm coming up with a recommended facility, and we should be getting that information very soon."
Stoudt said he has "total confidence" in the city moving forward on the project.
Dean said he hopes the project could be finished near the start of 2015.
"I feel like we are right on track. It has always been our thought process that it would probably take a couple of years to be in a new shelter," he said. "I would hope it happens before my term ends because that is a very special project."