City councilmen bypass mayor's
effort to block construction plan
By Martin Burkey
DAILY Staff Writer
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The Decatur City Council on Tuesday short-circuited Mayor Don Kyle's effort to stop construction of an animal shelter on Beltline Road and a building for a private agency that employs the mentally handicapped.
Council President Billy Jackson, Councilmen Ronny Russell and David Bolding ignored Kyle's call for an "open and honest discussion about the facts and statistics."
They voted without discussion during a called meeting to allow Jackson to sign an agreement to borrow $650,000 to build a building for the Centers for the Developmentally Disabled.
The agency would vacate a city-owned building at Wilson Morgan Park that the council wants for an animal shelter.
Kyle sent a letter to council members Friday refusing to sign the agreement. He said Decatur has more important needs than tying up $2.5 million in the plan. Council members Gary Hammon and Ray Metzger sided with him, voting against allowing Jackson to sign the agreement.
"I thought the mayor was the CEO," Hammon said.
Tuesday's vote cleared the way for a three-part plan that Russell introduced in April and won majority support:
# The planning and engineering departments would move from the current city annex — getting the city out of a $60,000 lease — to the current animal shelter on Central Parkway, which would be renovated for $400,000.
# The animal shelter would move to a larger city building at Beltline Road and Central Parkway, which would be renovated for about $900,000 and about $300,000 in private donations.
# The Center for the Developmentally Disabled, which employs 274 mentally handicapped workers at the proposed shelter location, would move to another CDD facility on Central Parkway, where the city would spend $600,000 to build the private nonprofit agency a building. The agency leases the property from the state but would eventually own it, Kyle said.
Kyle said before the vote that he supports the nonprofit agency's work, as well as the need for a new animal shelter.
But the city doesn't support other charities and service agencies to the extent proposed for the CDD.
"Look at Hospice and the Free Clinic that surely would have liked to have had that size contribution," he said. "That's why I said it sets a dangerous precedent."
Kyle said he doubts the benefits of the new shelter are as great as suggested by shelter supporters or as important as several other city needs.
"I don't intend to sign a document that is not completely factual," Kyle wrote council members.
"It is time to have an open, honest, rational discussion about the best location of a shelter, reasonable costs to incur and the timing of construction."
Kyle said the plan ties up what he estimates as $650,000 for the new developmental center building, nearly $1 million to renovate the city building for the animal shelter, and the 1.3-acre site's appraised value of more than $900,000.
If the council doesn't want to use the area as a city park, he said, it would be better to retain the option to sell it for commercial use.
In the letter, he said the plan isn't justified when considered against the city's other needs:
# A Southwest collector street aimed at stimulating residential and commercial development.
# Ball field and tennis court improvements at Wilson Morgan Park.
# Expansion of sewer lines in Flint.
# Paying for new garbage trucks instead of borrowing the money.
Kyle said he doubts the animal shelter's claim that moving the existing shelter on Central Parkway to the more visible Beltline location would increase animal adoptions.
2,981 animals in 2005
The shelter handled 2,981 animals in 2005, but only 171 dogs and 24 cats were euthanized due to lack of space, he said.
The others were euthanized due to illness, injury, temperament or other factors that made them unacceptable for adoption.
Improved visibility won't change that, he said.
Kyle said the site has no room for expansion, the 30-year-old metal building is not easily renovated, and the idea that people adopt animals on impulse is doubtful.
"The parties who so passionately covet this site for a shelter represent a special interest group that may not evaluate priorities the same way our population as a whole would," Kyle wrote to the council.
Kyle also said the nonprofit CDD agency has been using the building rent-free since its lease ran out 27 years ago.
The agency, he said, is a private entity with a $6 million budget capable of building a facility on its own.
The mayor said he has inspected other sites for the animal shelter, including land on Central Parkway and Veterans
Drive, priced at $100,000 to $350,000 that would be cheaper than building a facility for the nonprofit agency.
Russell, council liaison to the animal shelter, said Monday that the council should support its advisory board's recommendation.
Allowing the CDD to use the building probably amounts to less than appropriations to other public service agencies.
"I don't know it's the right thing to do to kick them out of that building," Russell said. "I think we have to honor the spirit of the original agreement."
Also Monday, Bolding said it's odd the mayor is worried about the park's commercial value when he asked the council a few months ago to take the park off the table for possible commercial development.
"I think the shelter does a lot more than euthanize and put animals up for adoption," he said.
Discussing the issue Monday, Dr. Michael Newman, chairman of the shelter's advisory board, said the Humane Society and other shelter experts can show evidence that adoptions go up at high-visibility shelters.
Relocating Decatur's shelter from the city's public works compound to the Beltline and a park where people can get to know the animals will help raise Decatur's image as a "pet-friendly city," he said.
A new shelter could also provide information and education about animals for all pet owners, who make pets a $25 million annual economic impact in Decatur.
"Our architects say it's not the old rundown building the mayor made it out to be," he added. "It's got potential."