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Southern Indiana officials looking at next steps for animal shelter services

New Albany Floyd County Animal Control & Shelter on West Market Street in New Albany.
Aprile Rickert
/
LPM
The New Albany Floyd County Animal Control & Shelter

Southern Indiana officials have taken recent steps to end a decades-old agreement between New Albany and Floyd County governments to jointly fund and operate a local animal shelter. It comes after years of dispute over the responsibility of shelter costs.

In 1999, the city and county governments entered an interlocal agreement to build, operate and fund the New Albany Floyd County Animal Control & Shelter.

According to the original document, the municipalities shared costs for constructing the shelter, which was also supported by funding from a local animal rescue organization. For ongoing operations, New Albany and Floyd County were responsible for a percentage of costs based on population.

But government leaders from both jurisdictions say the agreement hasn’t worked, and they’re looking at what comes next.

New Albany Council votes to end current agreement 

At a New Albany City Council meeting earlier this month, the board approved a resolution to dissolve the agreement. Some council members, and New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan, say the county hasn’t been paying enough — short around $1.3 million over the past two decades.

But some county officials say it’s been hard to determine what that share is, and that the city hasn’t been transparent about financial details.

“It has been stated many times that the county doesn't pay their fair share,” Floyd County Council Member Dale Bagshaw said at the New Albany meeting. “In my view, the county does not know what their fair share is because data requested by the council concerning total revenue and expenditures has never been provided.”

A budget history provided by city officials shows a total shelter budget of just under $10.8 million from 2003 through May of this year. New Albany’s responsibility of the cumulative total over the years has been 49.6%, with the remainder falling to the county. For 2023, the numbers show the city responsible for around 47% of the total budget.

City council member Josh Turner, a Libertarian, was in favor of tabling the vote on the resolution to dissolve the agreement, in part because he wanted to explore whether the issues could be remedied by working with the county before ending the current agreement.

The city council approved ending the relationship, but the city and county have different views on what this action means.

City attorney Shane Gibson told LPM News in an email that the agreement was officially dissolved once the city council approved the resolution and Mayor Gahan signed it.

Floyd County attorney Rick Fox said he thinks ending the agreement would need to be a joint effort from the city and county.

“The typical legal way that you dissolve contracts is through an agreement of the parties to dissolve the contract,” Fox said. “And if they are dissolving the contract, what are the terms of the dissolution?”

Al Knable, Floyd County Commissioners president, said regardless of whether the city’s actions officially ended the agreement, it signals the direction things are heading.

“I think that at a minimum, the one thing that everybody can agree on is that the interlocal agreement as it exists now has not functioned well,” he said.

Knable said the commissioners will likely draw up an executive agreement soon to sign off on ending the agreement “so it's official on both ends.”

Dispute over shelter costs 

According to New Albany officials, Floyd County paid $250,000 of the $357,559.20 expected from them for shelter operations in 2022.

New Albany shows the total shelter budget in 2023 as just under $754,000. The city says the county hasn’t paid anything for this year yet, but Bagshaw, with the county, said they usually pay in December.

He also said in recent years the county has used the actual cost from the previous year — not the budget estimates — and split that nearly in half to determine what the county paid.

County council member Connie Moon told LPM News efforts to get both parties together to discuss the budget have been unsuccessful.

“They will not come to the table,” she said of the city. “We've sent letters. We've emailed.”

She added that without those talks, the county has relied on state reported data to determine what the true expenditures have been.

“That should be a joint meeting between the city and the county and we can figure out how to fund it together,” she said. “We have to know what we're paying for.”

New Albany Council member Scott Blair said at the meeting earlier this month that in his 11 years serving, there has never been a joint meeting between the city and county to talk about the shelter budget. He said the county council’s attorney has sent notice over the past several years to meet, “and we just ignored that.”

“It's not just ‘the county's guilty,’” Blair said. “We haven’t upheld some of our obligations.”

What’s next?

The city is prepared to fully fund the shelter for the remainder of the year and continue serving the county during that time. Meanwhile, officials will look at what the next steps are.

“I'm confident that the animals are going to be taken care of between now and then,” Knable said. “I have a good working relationship with the mayor with regards to this particular topic. We're both in agreement that there's no reason to be in a great hurry about this and that the animals will be taken care of at this point in time.”

He also noted that disagreements over the shelter predate the current elected officials and mayoral administration.

At a recent work session with Floyd County Commissioners and county council members, Knable talked about options moving forward.

That could include trying to strike a new agreement or contracting out services — which could include working with New Albany.

Knable said this could be more cost effective, too. He said since 2018, there have been an average of 50 runs a year to the county. He said he feels they could get that taken care of for less than the county has paid as part of the interlocal agreement.

The property

If the agreement is over or when it is, there’s still the question of the property itself. According to the interlocal agreement, “the leasehold interest and ultimate ownership of the animal shelter shall be vested, jointly, in the city and county.” The document is not clear on what happens to the shelter if the agreement is terminated.

A map of county property data shows that the Floyd County Commissioners own the land where the shelter sits. It was transferred in May from the New Albany-Floyd County Building Authority to the Floyd County Commissioners.

Floyd County attorney Rick Fox said that includes the land and what’s attached to the land — the shelter building itself. With regard to the building, he said the city could still make a claim on what they believe they’re owed.

But New Albany attorney Shane Gibson said the city wasn’t notified in advance.

“The city wasn’t advised of the transfer, wasn’t asked to input on the transfer, wasn’t consulted on the ramifications of any transfer, or how the transfer would affect the agreement,” he said in an email to LPM News. “This was a unilateral action by county officials to take property interest and resources from the city.”

Fox, with the county, said there wasn’t any requirement he’s aware of to notify the city of this transfer.

The building authority was established in the 1950s to build the City-County Building. Other properties overseen by the authority have included the Floyd County jail and the animal shelter. In February 2022, following the city government’s relocation to a new building, the city council voted unanimously to withdraw from the authority.

Knable, who previously served as a city council member, said he’s ready to move past the animosity that’s surrounded the issue. He said he’ll be working with other leaders to come to the best next steps for animal shelter and control operations in Floyd County.

“I would more like to view this as a no-fault divorce and just kind of move on with it so that we can have resolution on things, and people know where everything stands,” Knable said.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec, Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.