Calhoun County’s animal center won’t open to the public until at least April 1, center director Chris Westmoreland told county commissioners at a meeting Thursday.
Repairs and refurbishment have added two weeks to the timeline for the center, which was originally projected to open in mid-March.
“There’s a whole lot more there to do than we were expecting,” Westmoreland told a reporter outside a meeting room at the County Administration Building, where commissioners held their regular meeting Thursday.
Westmoreland has been in charge of the animal center on Morrisville Road since March 1, following the county’s move to again take responsibility for animal control.
For years, the nonprofit Cheaha Regional Humane Society ran the animal center on the county’s behalf, but commissioners terminated its contract last year. For the year before the termination, current and former staff at the center engaged in intense debates over the management of the shelter, but commissioners didn’t cite those conflicts in ending the contract, saying instead that they were looking for a “metro concept” that would involve all the county’s cities.
County officials had originally planned to re-open the shelter in mid-March, after making renovations. Westmoreland on Thursday said problems with plumbing, electrical work and rotting sheetrock added extra work to that project. He said workers are also taking up old tile and preparing for repairs to the air conditioning system.
Westmoreland didn’t have an estimate of the repair cost.
The county is taking in strays on an emergency basis, Westmoreland said, and has accepted 22 animals this month. He said those were generally animals that were dangerous or were killing livestock. County officials last month said they’d work with local animal rescue operations to house some of their animals; Westmoreland on Thursday said that would have to wait until repairs are done.
Jail fix in works
At the Thursday meeting, County Administrator Mark Tyner said the county was looking into repair work to fix structural problems at the county jail that came to light after a jailbreak last year.
“We’re not going to get the federal inmates back until they make those repairs,” said Commissioner Tim Hodges.
County jails sometimes house inmates awaiting federal trial, butthe Department of Justice pulled its inmates out of Calhoun County’s facility last year. At the time,the jail had more than 600 inmates, with only seven or eight correctional officers on staff for any given shift.
The federal pullout happened about a month before the jailbreak.The jail population has dropped as prosecutors have looked for new sentencing options. Still, Tyner said, the county will likely have to fix the security issues before getting those inmates back.
Tyner didn’t have an estimate for the cost of the project, which is still in the assessment stage.
The county last year raised starting pay for jail staff from $10 per hour to $12 per hour. Tyner said there’s no evidence the raise has helped the county improve its staffing numbers.
Gas tax money coming
County engineer Brian Rosenbalm told commissioners they could expect an eventual $1.5 million to $1.6 million in new road and bridge funding as a result of the 10 percent gas tax increase the Alabama Legislature passed this week.
That would increase the county’s road budget by about 40 percent, but the county likely won’t see a cent until December.
“It’s not like we’re going to get a check next week,” Rosenbalm said.
Meanwhile, already-scheduled repair projects are underway. Rosenbalm said the county would close the bridge on Mellon Bridge Road the week of March 25 — spring break for county schools, and thus for their buses — to repair a wooden walkway.
The bridge has sometimes been the source of complaints, Rosenbalm said, though finding federal funds to replace it would be tough.
“It’s a narrow bridge, but it’s really strong,” he said. It’s easier to get federal money to replace structurally-deficient bridges, he said.
In other business
The commission also held several votes including:
— A 5-0 vote to approve a liquor license for Taco and Tequila, a restaurant at 6404 U.S. 431
— Dismissal of a nuisance declaration at 15 Faith Ave. near Jacksonville. County officials said problems at the location had been addressed.
— A 5-0 vote to declare a nuisance at 60 Phillip David Drive in Ohatchee.
— A unanimous vote to transfer land at McClellan to the McClellan Development Authority for development of horse trails. The MDA has been planning to use 850 acres near Lake Yahou for a trail system. MDA board member Bill Robison said the MDA would meet Tuesday to give its approval to the transfer agreement.