A budget battle could be brewing in one East Tennessee community, and it all has to do with the animal shelter.
With more than 250 animals being housed there, the Newport Animal Shelter is reaching its capacity.
"In order to take care of the incoming dogs, you have to have the staff, the food, the vaccines to take care of them, and with the current budget, we're just not able to care for that many animals," said Brandy Hensley, the shelter director.
The property and facility is owned by the non-profit, "Friends of the Animal Shelter," but the City of Newport has official oversight and is responsible for the maintenance.
Both the city and Cocke County provide operating funds, but shelter leaders say the county is not putting in its fair share, so this week, they offered up a funding proposal to the city council.
"We wanted to find a way to be able to take care of the animals and help with some funding but make it fair to both city residents and county residents, county government and city government," Hensley said.
Leaders are proposing a $40 fee be charged for each animal that comes in to the shelter. That fee would only apply to the animals being turned in by the city and county animal control officers. The public would not be charged.
"They want to have fairness to the taxpayers, and we've been funding it just the opposite," said Scott Collins, the Newport city administrator.
So far this fiscal year, the city has turned in 657 and budgeted $135,000 for the shelter, while the county has turned in 2,275 animals and budgeted $40,000. Cocke County also pays the salary and insurance for its one animal control officer.
During the previous fiscal year, the breakdown was 998 city animals with $200,000 budgeted, and 2,484 county animals with $45,000 budgeted, plus the one officer.
The shelter's non-profit organization is now taking in some of its own money through adoption and spay/neuter fees, so some of the city's money is reimbursed. But leaders say the contributions are still unbalanced.
Still, at least one county leader is skeptical about the proposed fees and the possibility of a budget battle.
"The City of Newport and the county have worked together so good for so many years, and we will continue that good relationship with the City of Newport, but what we have to look at is priorities of what we can afford versus the wants and needs, and essential services come first, and that's where our priorities have got to be and have to remain focused on the priorities for our county," said Michael McCarter, chair of the Cocke County Legislative Body.
McCarter pointed out that the county pays for some other services used by both city and county residents, including some roadways and the jail.
And he worries what the consequences could be if the surcharge is passed, and the county does not agree to pay.
"If there's monies available that's in the county budget, I will fight and advocate for the animal shelter because it's in my district, it's in the city district, but I just don't see how adding a surcharge to the animals is going to be the answer to the question," McCarter said. "I think it's going to be more of a burden to the city because a lot of people will start moving their animals from the county and dropping in to the city. So, who's to say, if the city is paying $40,000 now they won't be paying $240,000 when everybody brings their dogs or animals to the City of Newport and drops off."
The proposed fee would have to be approved by the city council, and because the city has oversight of the shelter, the county would technically not have a say in the decision.
But McCarter expressed his wishes that the two legislative bodies would work together on the issue.