Warner Robins council panel split on joint shelter

A proposed agreement presented on a north Houston County joint animal shelter impressed four members of the Warner Robins City Council, while two other members and Mayor Donald S. Walker expressed sentiment that the document was barking up the wrong tree.

The draft document presented at Monday's precouncil meeting showed that Centerville would allocate $50,000 while Houston County would provide $200,000. An additional 2,000 square feet of space would be added onto a design plan already created by Warner Robins for its own animal shelter.

Warner Robins would handle operations while Houston County and Centerville would continue to maintain their own animal control. Furthermore, the shelter would reserve 36 dog pens, four puppy pens and 30 cat pens for Centerville and Houston County animals. Warner Robins also would increase fees to Centerville and Houston County for housing their animals from $30 per animal to $40.

City councilmen Bob Wilbanks, John Havrilla, John Williams and Terry Horton said they would support pursuing the agreement. Mayor Walker, along with city councilmen Thomas Simms and Clifford Holmes, voiced concern about the negative impact they thought it could have on Warner Robins.

The concept of a countywide shelter was proposed at a March Vision 2020 meeting. However, when the city of Perry opted out because of plans for its own shelter, the idea was modified to create a north Houston County shelter. A meeting of a Vision 2020 animal shelter committee is expected to take place Thursday and Centerville and Houston County officials are expected to discuss the agreement at their respective government meetings this week.

Terry Horton, who was the first to propose a joint animal control facility, said the tentative agreement as written would essentially maintain the current structure of the Warner Robins Animal Control facility.

"Nothing changes except we'll get $250,000 to help us build an animal shelter," Horton said.

Prior to the consideration of a north Houston County facility, Warner Robins was moving forward with its own plans to construct a $562,000 animal control facility. Funding for the project was to come from the 2003 selling of a $183,000 speculative building, $300,000 from gas fund money and $79,000 from donations.

"We're putting up everything and they're only putting up a drop," Walker said of the city's contribution to the shelter pot.

Development plans called for the shelter to be composed of four buildings. Two buildings, measuring about 1,800 square feet each, will house administrative offices, a medical room, storage and cats. The other two buildings will include 72 dog pens and eight puppy pens.

However, the project ran into roadblock after roadblock after consideration of three sites brought opposition from neighboring residents. Even a plan to construct a new building at the site of the current location on Bay Street brought criticism.

When presented with the initial concept of a north Houston County animal shelter, city councilman Holmes expected a location to be sought out in the county, eliminating "not in my backyard" complaints from local residents.

"We are still the ones going to take the brunt of it," Holmes said, adding he felt the city didn't play a large enough role in creating the agreement.

However, Williams said it's a good deal and the city is researching at least two possible sites — one near the industrial park by Anchor Glass and another location near Stalnaker Avenue by the police academy.

"It's a win-win situation for everybody," Williams said.

Nevertheless, Simms, who supported a countywide shelter resolution but opposed a north Houston County animal shelter, said continuing on in the direction of a joint shelter is delaying Warner Robins' own progress. In his words, the city can do this on its own.

"They were talking about this before I got into office and still nothing has been built," Simms, who began serving in January, said.