A special work session was held at Mt. Juliet City Hall to discuss cutting the Animal Control budget to gain funds to hire two police officers.
The session took place Monday evening and both city administration and city commissioners attended.
The animal control and animal shelter budgets are under the police department.
Mt. Juliet Police Department Chief James Hambrick said the proposed cut was for the animal shelter from $310,000 to $180,000.
Hambrick said it was important to add two more full time police officers and to do this the city will reappropriate funds already existing in the main police department budget. He said the animal shelter budget cut won't affect the current level of service of the shelter, however, most likely one position will be eliminated and pet adoptions will be by appointment only.
Hambrick emphasized the need for more officers patrolling the streets as the city continues to grow and sees more crime.
"We need to keep up with the growth," he said. "While we are rated sixth safest city in the state, we want to do better. Also the current events like the armed robberies of Walgreens and SaveALot shows we need to be more diligent."
The upcoming budget cycle is approaching, and department heads are already working on the 2015-2016 budget that will take effect July 1. Hambrick said in his budget he would request an additional four police officers, in addition to the two positions from the shuffling of funds.
Currently there are 45 positions in the police department and national standards dictate a city the size of Mt. Juliet - currently at 28,000 - should have 55 police officers.
Hambrick noted sister city Lebanon has a similar population and has 70 police officers.
And Mt. Juliet is in the midst of a census that will most likely reveal an uptick in citizens.
"There has been a lot of research, and this tweaking of the animal shelter budget won't reduce the level of service at the shelter and will increase the safety of both citizens and police officers, improve response times and help keep a better presence in the community," said Hambrick.
He said the $130,000 garnered from the animal shelter budget would go to two officers' salaries and one police vehicle. Drug fund money will help pay for the second patrol car. The chief said animal control would not be affected by the budget cut.
Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenneth Martin echoed Hambrick's statement about the city's ranking in safety.
"We are proud of being the sixth safest city in the state, but our goal is to be the safest city in the state and beyond," he said.
Martin said the idea of the budget cut was brought about by "the combined ideas, feedback, research and due diligence of many."
"As the result of these discussions and recent current events across our country, and the growth of the city, the need and decision to restructure was proposed," he said.
"We have the opportunity to increase our police force and still maintain a top notch shelter with a little compromise and restructuring. Our number one job is protecting our citizens and this opportunity allows us to do an even better job."
Even more of a need for volunteers
The Mt. Juliet Animal Shelter was opened five years ago and has been recognized as a "model shelter" in the United States. Part of its success is its loyal volunteers, representatives said.
The volunteer group set up a 501-C nonprofit status and privatized so that any donations would go directly to the shelter. Several hundred people have signed up to volunteer, but there is a core group of volunteers who show up regularly to maintain the shelter, which is under the direction of Dawn Ambrose.
Will Sellers is the president of the Mt. Juliet Animal Shelter Volunteer Organization. He, and other key volunteers, attended Monday's meeting. Sellers said he realizes with the budget cut it will be necessary for the volunteers to further fill in the gap to maintain the high level of service.
"There was some alarm about the budget cuts," he said. "There are a lot of passionate people out there about humane issues. We told the city we would do anything we could to step up and do what we can."
He said the shelter's motto is, "everything we do is for the animals."
"We are really going to go on the blitz to crank up our level of signed-up volunteers and ask for more to sign up," he said. "Dawn Ambrose does a wonderful job and she's going to work out the logistics of the cut. We all realize the police department is severely understaffed."
Sellers said he hopes to reactive some of the people who expressed interest in volunteering.
"It can be as simple as walking a dog," he said. "We can deal with the cuts as long as we know the same level of service will be provided."
The budget cut will most likely change the current shelter hours, which are Wednesday through Saturday from noon until 4 p.m. with open adoption times. The cuts will change those hours, and adoptions will be by appointment only. However, exact hours and logistics are still being worked out.
Sellers said the most popular time for visitors to the shelter is on Saturday and perhaps this would be the only open day to the public, thus cutting the need for a full time person to man a desk that might see only a couple of people every few hours.
City leaders agree public safety is number one priority
Mayor Ed Hagerty said the commission does not need to vote on the budget cut, and "Kenneth Martin and Chief Hambrick have the budgetary authority to do this now if they choose."
"The need for additional patrolmen is critical as crime is increasing," said Hagerty. "We intend to remain a safe city."
He also noted Mt. Juliet's safety ranking.
"While that is good, we would like to be ranked higher," said Hagerty. "This will be difficult to achieve as the mid-state and Mt. Juliet continue to grow."
District 4 City Commissioner Brian Abston said the budget cut "should produce no adverse situations with the job the shelter does."
"It will only close the shelter for appointments only," he said. "This is a good idea because there is really no need for the doors to be open all the time. This would change to a more of a standard type shelter. The volunteer network will be need to help a little more."
He also noted, "it is imperative that we add officers this year."
Hambrick lauded the shelter volunteers and said they do a "phenomenal job."
He said while overall crime has not dramatically increased year to date, crimes such as armed burglaries and car burglaries have spiked.
When the changes will occur will be announced, said Hambrick. Everything is status quo until then.
For more information about volunteering or to donate call the shelter at 773-5533.
Writer Laurie Everett may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.