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Citrus County's Third Rail

A common term used in politics is the third rail. This describes an issue so charged that to touch it is to be fatal to one’s political future. At the federal level, the third rail is usually associated with social security. Locally the third rail is undoubtedly the animal shelter.

Lack of clear direction, a contradictory outlook on outcomes versus realities and costs cloud this issue. Today’s column will tackle each of these though will be unable to conclude with a definitive suggestion on what to do moving forward.

The first is a lack of clear direction. This Board of County Commissioners has been proactive in attempting to combat this hurdle but a three hour public workshop on Tuesday before the regularly scheduled BOCC meeting specifically about the animal shelter was another in a long example that demonstrated how hard it is to blaze a trail forward.

Take two stories from the week the new members of the board took their oaths. On Nov. 15, the Chronicle reported Commissioner Kinnard’s concept to bring the LifeStream mental health campus along with a new site for the animal shelter near the Citrus County jail on County Road 491. Rep. Ralph Massullo endorsed the plan a couple of days later leading from the front with his own generous contribution to offset costs.

After that Tuesday meeting, the first meeting of the new board with Commissioners Davis and Schlabach, that plan seemed to be dead on arrival as the commission voted unanimously on a conceptual plan to provide up to 10 acres for LifeStream but did not include an additional 6 acres for an animal shelter.

County Administrator Randy Oliver reiterated in this Tuesday’s workshop that the land would hold a LifeStream facility or an animal shelter but not both.

The next difficulty facing the issue of the animal shelter is conflict that arises between what is thought to be true and what is reality. There are at least two examples where the expectation of truth and the evidence in practice differ significantly.

The first is whether or not a new facility is truly needed or if the existing facility can be renovated to fit the county’s needs. The outcome of Tuesday’s meeting as first reported by the Chronicle is that commissioners unanimously agree a new facility is needed but directed the county to explore retrofitting the old facility.

To editorialize briefly, I toured the existing facility in October 2019. This information is now a year and a half old and could have changed during that time, but the position of those working day-to-day at the facility was that the existing structure could be sufficient with renovations.

The calls to start brand new were primarily coming from the volunteers, who do dedicate an enormous amount of time to their passion and should be commended for all their hard work, but who also don’t share the same perspective as those who operate the shelter.

This is the first conflict of what is thought to be true, that a new shelter is the only outcome, and what is reality, that staff may not think that is the best way forward if what was true in late 2019 is still true today.

The second discrepancy is that private donations exist to fund a large portion of cost. As mentioned previously, Rep. Massullo did generously offer $500,000 toward a new shelter but the community has been hesitant to get involved. Shelter Me Citrus, a nonprofit dedicated to raising funds for a new shelter, fell short by roughly two-thirds its intended goal after three years of trying. We are a generous community, that is true, but the idea that the generosity extends to an animal shelter at this point can’t be considered a reality.

The last problem, arguably the biggest, will be the cost. Numbers kicked around in the past have been $3 million but the architectural consultant proposed $11.5 million. Commissioners balked at this but settled to explore anything up to an $8 million price tag.

Cost shouldn’t paralyze the commission from continuing to explore options, and it hasn’t, but at some point the stakeholders in this issue need to work smarter, not harder. Great effort has been made by supporters and the BOCC but unfortunately there’s almost no progress to show for it. Establishing a list of each difficulty faced and approaching it methodically instead of all-at-once would be a good place to start.


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