Animal Shelter is just another battle in Senseless Proxy War
You may have noticed that there was a new problem recently with sucking all the oxygen out of the Manatee County Commission chambers. Now that the board has passed the county administrator’s dismissal over a board-approved land deal threatening island towns over parking policies, attention has shifted to the long-promised East County animal service facility. Make no mistake, this question is just as empty and, like the others, is being driven for purposes that have far more to do with politics than pragmatism.
Changing development patterns have seen most of the new growth in Manatee County occur in the once rural hamlets to the east. The constant growth east of I-75 has dramatically altered the scope of services that must be provided to county residents, shifting much of the work from the areas surrounding the urban core. For good reason at the time, most of our county government facilities were built in this older area, and the growing pains of our community will include the need for the expensive public infrastructure needed to serve those who have. bought all these new homes. .
Many of these investments have been planned for years, including the major purchase of land to build a new operations center that will house the headquarters of several agencies in the east of the county, including law enforcement, police utilities and public works. Separately, the county has planned an eastern county animal service facility that would include the only shelter on this side of the county. There is no doubt that the county’s very dilapidated old facility in Palmetto has passed its lifespan and needs to be replaced. However, the recent donation of the Bishop Animal Shelter is far from a definitive solution to the lack of public investment in a new facility, which is overdue by a good decade.
The Bishop gift comes in two pieces. One is a newly constructed state-of-the-art facility that could reduce the county’s planned investment in the East County facility as it includes processing facilities that did not exist in our current facility. and which would have been included in the new shelter. to the East. It has a capacity of 68 dogs. The other is an older facility with a capacity of 60 dogs which, upon receipt, the county estimated it would take around $ 4 million to properly rehabilitate.
The facility that the county had planned to build in the east was to have a capacity of 100 to 120 dogs, but – and that’s extremely important to remember – this number was intended as a way to increase the county’s already limited capacity (80 beds in the Palmetto facility) at the time Bishop was assumed Carry on have room for 128 dogs. The idea that Bishop given to the county somehow solves the county’s need for new facilities just doesn’t hold up. The county was not given a new empty facility that would create new capacity, it was given a existing operation that was already hovering at or near full capacity. The county’s animal services department will gain valuable treatment facilities, but overall accommodation capacity in the county will be reduced even as the county invests in the rehabilitation of Bishop’s oldest buildings.
And none of this takes into account that Bishop is on the western end of an increasingly crowded community and can take an hour to travel from parts of eastern county. If we continue to allow unhindered development in the East, we cannot expect these new communities to do without the services their taxes are supposed to provide, and that includes things like libraries, public safety and animal services. And the burden of service doesn’t just impact residents. County departments are not empowered to provide quality service when they are forced to operate inefficiently, and having to crawl through daytime traffic to provide service to remote suburban communities is anything but profitable.
The sad reality is that by not planning for sustainable growth, we have fallen behind on infrastructure investments to support the patch-quilt approach to construction driven primarily by the prospect of developer earnings. And that’s where the irony sets in. This is not about saving money. Our county government asked citizens to fund such infrastructure with an optional half-cent (developer-promoted) sales tax in 2018, and taxpayers agreed to do so. The oversight committee that was set up to advise the community on spending from sales tax revenues on infrastructure studied the proposal for a shelter in the east of the county and recommended it. unanimously. The departmental commission then approved it, once again, unanimously.
Regardless of what some commissioners would have you believe, Bishop has not presented the county with an alternative to building the new shelter, and there are no simple, inexpensive options to adequately provide the level of service. what the community expects. The efforts to demolish the shelter in East County are purely political. Simply put, the promoter (s) who installed the new majority on the board last November didn’t want the shelter built because of who did it.
Former county administrator Ed Hunzeker brought the project to fruition and the current theater appears to be another battle in the ongoing feud between Hunzeker and developer Carlos Beruff. County Commissioner George Kruse defeated Hunzeker in a bloody Republican primary for the District 7 seat. The fact that Beruff funded Kruse’s victory and that it is now Kruse who carries the water on the shelter issue (all as he has done on other matters of importance to Beruff, including the purchase of land for the operations center) leaves little to the imagination.
The fact that the scuttling of the refuge will also be a boost for Commissioner Carol Whitmore (R-District 6), who supported Hunzeker and had a very public argument with Kruse while falling into Beruff’s bad graces by refusing to vote against Cheri Coryea when Hunzeker retired, makes her a of thembecause Whitmore has long been the board’s most vocal supporter of animal welfare issues.
It’s a shame because when he’s not laughing at Beruff, Kruse is arguably the most astute member of the board, regularly coming up with good, common-sense ideas on public policy. But when someone injects six figures into campaign donations and political action committees to get you elected against one of their enemies, I guess you have to give voice to their favorite issues (no pun intended). ) and the commissioner’s alternate tenor on such occasions seems to be a pretty obvious tell.
Like the Lena Road Accord, the East County Refuge is good public policy, and it is almost painful to see someone as smart as Kruse usually seem to fold into pretzels arguing with them. In fact, it’s just the kind of forward-thinking initiative that he and the other developer-sponsored commissioners in the New Majority so often say they want to see more of when it’s not a big deal. which goes against Beruff and his cohorts in the development community. As they often note, it won’t cost more until later. In this vein, rather than seeing the Bishop donation as a solution, we should instead think about investing the money saved by the duplicate treatment facilities in increasing the bed capacity of a new shelter in the East. . After all, as Commissioners constantly remind us, the population of Manatee County is only growing and there is no end in sight.
Like most things the government provides, the need for animal services can be predicted fairly accurately by a formula based on the new residents added. Considering the development trends championed by their sponsors, the majority of the board should have no problem imagining the need for 200 beds in the east in the very near future when they will be even more expensive to provide. This is the irony I spoke of earlier; that it is this same density of eastern county that these developers are using to create their influence that is driving the demand for services on this side of the county. Seeing them then use the same influence and then try to deny it, it’s salt in the wound.
It seems that every week Commissioners complain about a lack of civility and decorum in meetings, demanding respect for themselves and their supporters, while disrespecting their peers and opponents. But things will never get better if the new majority remains determined to undo everything that was done by a previous administration, all at the behest of a handful of private citizens who have more power than the other 400,000. citizens and more of this county.
Whether you agree with their mission or not, a large contingent of citizen activists from Manatee County have worked tirelessly for years to market the vision of improved animal welfare services to our community, and the response to these. Most recent events clearly demonstrate that the community has indeed bought into this vision. Plus, there won’t be any real savings in bypassing this community on the investment that has been promised, which, by the way, comes from an IST fund that has vastly outperformed in terms of estimated income. , mainly because the board of directors has facilitated all of this creeping development through zoning changes, changes to the compensation plan, unearned density bonuses and other development documents.
Manatee County may reverse national trends and embrace Byzantine animal welfare practices in which the government provides minimal services related to the capture and disposal of unwanted animals, but all indications suggest that the true constituents of the council do not agree with such a vision. And when it comes to Manatee County politics, I have yet to see an advocacy group as motivated, dedicated and relentless as those who represent animal rights. Commissioners would do well to listen and learn from those who have been in the trenches and understand the challenges ahead. Otherwise, I can assure you that these people will remember it at election time.
Dennis “Mitch” Maley is editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. It is also the host of Punk Rock Politix on Youtube. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered the Manatee County government since 2010. He graduated from the University of Shippensburg and then served as a captain in the United States Army. Click on here for his biography. His latest book, Burn Black Wall Street Burn, is available here.