The Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board is looking at options to better manage the shelter’s finances. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

y Kendal Groner

In their Dec. 11 meeting, the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board held its annual election of officers, discussed additional ways to cut costs at the Unicoi County Animal Shelter, and reflected on recent fundraising successes.

Joann Tatro, who has been chairman of the Animal Welfare Board for five years, nominated Ginger Ray to replace her as chairman.

“I really want someone who can be present at the shelter,” said Jessica Rogers, Unicoi County Animal Shelter director. “I want someone that’s hands on and it’s crucial we have that. If we’re changing roles, that’s something to consider.”

Ray asked Rogers what her specific expectations for the new chairman would be.

“We would like someone that can visit the shelter, that can be present at fundraisers, and know what it’s like and what we do on a daily basis,” Rogers replied. “I think the board, historically, has not been as hands on and involved … such as everyone not attending fundraisers and things like that. For us to continue to move forward, we definitely need someone very hands on outside of the monthly meetings here.”

Linda Mathes, Animal Welfare Board treasurer, added that Tatro had done a good job in her years as chairman, but knew that she was ready to step down. Mathes also vouched for Ray saying that she had known her for quite some time and felt she would make a good chairman.

“My only concern is you haven’t been at the shelter very much,” said Melissa Dagastino, Animal Welfare Board co-chairman. “That would be my concern going forward. I don’t know you that well, but I know how much I’ve been at the shelter and I guess my input is that the staff really just needs someone that’s going to be there, especially right now. They really need that support.”

Ray suggested a partnership since Dagastino had been so involved at the shelter and offered the possibility of her serving with her as co-chairman. The former co-chairman, Billy Harkins, said he had no issue in giving up the co-chairman position due to his own time constraints.

“Things today really are better as a team, and I’m willing to work together as a team rather than just an individual contributor,” Ray said.

Ray was unanimously elected as chairman of the board, and Melissa Dagastino was unanimously elected as co-chairman of the board.

Chris Oetjen will continue serving as secretary of the board, and Linda Mathes will continue serving as treasurer of the board.

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In other business, the board also gave a report on the shelter, which currently has around 45 dogs and 165 cats, with 72 animals exiting the shelter this past month. For the month of December the shelter brought in $1,800 in fundraisers, with $600 coming from the East Tennessee Jeep Club fundraiser and another $800 coming from the Cookie Extravaganza fundraiser.

The shelter has received $2,300 in donations so far this month, and has received $900 in income from pet adoptions.

“December tends to be our busiest month for adoptions and donations,” said Rogers.

The board also gave the monthly financial report which showed direct public support to be around 31 percent, although it has historically been around 50 percent for this time of year.

Although the recent success of the fundraisers and the additional donations have helped, the shelter’s expenses are still at 45 percent, with the total income falling short at 31 percent. Operational costs alone for the shelter each month are approximately $9,000.

The shelter was able to pay off a $2,700 and a $1,900 vet bill, but they still owe around $1,500 to $1,600 in vet bills.

“Right now we have a temporary challenge with our finances,” Tatro said. “We have overspent our buffer, and so we don’t have a financial buffer anymore. We’ve had challenges in the past. … We need to put our heads together and make some changes.”

The shelter currently has around $17,000 in the bank and their recent bills total $12,671.90. That’s not including the $18,154 in wage costs incurred this year that will have to be paid in June.

“We need about $39,000 to pay those bills,” Tatro calculated. “That’s an awful big chunk of change. … Instead of waiting until that time comes we need to look at cutbacks now. I think the board’s job is to support the director and her ambitions … but we also have a job to the taxpayer and we have to have a balance here.”

Travis Bishop from Rodefer Moss & Co. offered to volunteer as a financial adviser to the board. The board voted unanimously to allow Bishop to assist them in making financial decisions as they move forward.

“I think this would really, really benefit our group,” Tatro told the board.

Rodefer Moss & Co. also offered to handle the shelter’s bookkeeping, which has previously always been done in house.

“Whenever you have a non-profit, if there’s not an outside look there’s often things that happen that you don’t want to,” said Tatro. “I’ve been overseeing the accounting like this for nine years, and I’m ready to take a step back. We can’t afford to have an audit every year.”

According to Bishop, in outsourcing the bookkeeping, it would involve paying the bills, maintaining the books, providing oversight, preparing financial statements on a monthly basis, and going over monthly and year-to-date activities.

He also added that he would like to see more of the process done online by using a program such as Quickbooks. 

“We want to strengthen internal controls,” Bishop added, “There’s a lot of ways that we can work to strengthen those controls to prevent any issues.”

The board will vote in next month’s meeting on whether or not to hand over the task of bookkeeping to Rodefer Moss & Co., or possibly another accounting business.

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The shelter is still unable to provide extra medical treatment to animals aside from spay or neuter procedures due to their financial situation. They are currently operating under a managed intake system, meaning they are taking in animals as space is available, but some people are being deferred to a waiting list or other resources.

On Jan. 6 the Unicoi County Animal Shelter will be having a fundraiser at Masterpiece Mixers, a public art studio, in Johnson City. Tickets can be purchased through the shelter’s website for $35 a person and each ticket includes the class, materials and refreshments. The event will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

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The Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board will hold a called meeting on Thursday, Dec. 28, at 4 p.m. at Erwin Town Hall. The public is welcome to attend.