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Fiscal court magistrates voted Thursday to pay back $7,700 the county owes the Anderson Humane Society, but that apparently didn't settle the ongoing rift between Judge-Executive Steve Cornish and the agency.
Cornish said "absolutely no" when voting to pay back the $7,700, but not before criticizing the agency's director and treasurer, questioning why the non-profit agency doesn't pay rent for using a county building, and raising concerns about the agency's lack of liability insurance.
"It is a concern that a facility is provided for free," Cornish said during an interview Monday afternoon. "I just don't think it's fair that the citizens are providing a free building and paying for utilities for a private entity."
Asked if that means the county will look into charging rent, Cornish said, "Where it heads from here, I don't know."
Cheryl Steenerson, vice president of the Humane Society, roundly rejected the idea of paying rent on a building that wouldn't be there if not for the agency.
"The new building is only there because of a grant the Humane Society wrote to get it," said Steenerson, who also writes a freelance column for The Anderson News.
The rift between the judge-executive and Humane Society came to a head earlier this year when the fiscal court voted to raise fees associated with the county's animal shelter, located adjacent to the building the Humane Society uses as an adoption center.
Humane Society Director Donna Callahan addressed the fiscal court to voice her concerns that higher fees would lead to more animals being euthanized.
"She stomped out, said something, left, stomped back in and said something to Magistrate [Jason] Denny. That's when I told her to take care of the Humane Society and we'll run the county," Cornish said.
The Humane Society fired back last month by hiring an attorney to write a letter to the fiscal court demanding that the county repay a $7,700 two-year-old loan from the agency to fix the lagoon at the shelter and install adequate fencing.
That deal was struck between Cornish's predecessor, Anthony Stratton, and Callahan after she made the request during a fiscal court meeting.
Cornish said he can't find any documents to support the original deal, but the fiscal court did vote under his leadership last year to repay the funds.
However, only half the amount was budgeted in the county's 2008-09 budget, which angered Humane Society officials and prompted them to demand payment in full.
Thursday night, the fiscal court voted 6-1 to repay the loan, but not before an outburst from those in attendance, including one man who questioned why former Judge-Executive Anthony Stratton wasn't there to explain his side.
"Is Stratton still alive?" quipped Russell Walker. "If he's still moving and alive, he should have been here."
Cornish quipped that he doesn't have "subpoena" power, and questioned why Callahan wasn't there, either.
Just before that exchange, Cornish said there are some personal issues between he and Callahan and said, "It's not my fault." He added that Humane Society Treasurer Sue Ann Ford's comments were "false" in an article in The Anderson News when she alleged that he made several "excuses" for not paying back the loan.
Steenerson said that without the Humane Society, there would be no animal control facility in Anderson County.
"We are responsible for building it all, everything, from the ground up," she said. "In the past 12 years at the old building, we have provided free to the county an $8,000 cat enclosure, a $5,000 exercise yard and kennels at $15,000 worth of repairs. We have provided $10,000 worth of equipment, including the phones, and pay for the majority of all pet food for the county's animals, and pay for all the vet services after the seven-day hold period.
"We also put $20,000 worth of equipment in the new building."
That Cornish is leaning on the Humane Society now is ironic, Steenerson said, because of the services it has provided while the county's animal shelter was short staffed.
"Recently, the judge asked us to provide coverage for the shelter services since two of the three employees were no longer there. When the third employee got hurt, it was the Humane Society that kept the building open and cared for the animals, went on calls and returned lost pets to their owners."
Cornish said his insurance concerns are mostly related to visitors who interact with the animals. He told the fiscal court that during a recent visit to the Humane Society's shelter he saw small children running in and out and two young girls playing with a dog in a pen.
"You never know when an animal will turn on a [person]," he said. "If they get hurt or bit, who's liable?"
He said that prompted him to check and see if the agency has liability insurance.
"Come to find out, the building (which is owned by the county) is not covered under our insurance," he said, adding that he has asked the county's insurance carrier to look into providing liability coverage.
Steenerson said the children who volunteer at the facility sign wavers so the county cannot be held liable if they get hurt.
Cornish said those wavers don't always "hold a lot of water in court."