Some commissioners want Sullivan to rejoin PETWorks

J. H. Osborne • Oct 14, 2018 at 12:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Should Sullivan County stop operating its own animal shelter and instead rejoin PETWorks?

County commissioners are being asked to consider that, thanks to a resolution sponsored by Commissioner Pat Shull, who serves on the board of PETWorks, formally known as SBK Animal Shelter.

The county commission voted last November to terminate a partnership agreement it had with Kingsport and Bluff City since 2011. That was SBK (Sullivan County, Bluff City, Kingsport).

That joint effort, a nonprofit, began to fall apart amid SBK’s rebranding as “PETWorks” and plans to construct a new facility to replace the two SBK then operated — one in Kingsport and the other in Blountville.

PETWorks leadership planned to build the new facility on property on Highway 11-W on the east end of Kingsport (and still does). The county commission earlier in 2017 provided PETworks with $75,000 to help purchase that property.

But commissioners from the county’s “upper end” (around Bristol) and its eastern half (Blountville to Piney Flats) began to question how far that would be from their constituencies. During public comment at several county commission meetings, people who said they had volunteered at the animal shelter in Blountville said they and others from the upper and eastern parts of the county would not make the drive to Kingsport.

And, ultimately, the city of Bristol, Tennessee, which had indicated it was willing finally to join the partnership, decided to withdraw plans to help fund PETWorks and the new facility.

A turning point for many county commissioners came when SBK/PETWorks officials came back to ask for a commitment from the county to help fund the new facility. Some commissioners said they had been promised the $75,000 was all the county would be asked for and the rest was projected, by SBK/PETWorks folks, to come from private donations. But they did come back and ask for more money, saying potential “big” private donors wanted a commitment from the local governments before they would open their own pocketbooks. One figure suggested as the county’s potential “commitment” was $1.1 million.

The termination of the partnership has left Sullivan County in sole control of the Sullivan County Animal Shelter since Jan. 1.

While the county has endured an onslaught of criticism from animal rights advocates and shelter volunteers since January, most who spoke during public comment last week said they do not want the county to rejoin PETWorks. Several said they believe the county is making progress at its own shelter in Blountville, albeit baby steps, and they much prefer that than returning to being under the control of PETWorks — which they, and some county commissioners, portrayed as Kingsport-centric. 

Shull’s resolution is co-sponsored by Gary Stidham and Todd Broughton, both among the 15 new commissioners who took office just last month.

The resolution asks the commission to approve  “the formation of a County Negotiation Team to meet with PetWorks representatives (and the City of Kingsport as required) for exploring the terms and conditions pursuant to consolidation of County-wide animal control/services within the PetWorks framework. Negotiation Team shall consist of: 1) County Mayor, and 2) Three (3) County Commissioners chosen by the Board of County Commissioners. This team shall begin their work within two weeks of passage of this resolution, and report progress to the Commission at each monthly Commission work session.”

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Monday, Oct. 15 on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

Shull indicated he will leave the resolution on “first reading” as new business, which means a vote is not expected.