MANATEE -- Already looking for a permanent chief for the Manatee County Animal Services Division, Manatee County officials said Thursday they are canvassing surplus county buildings in hopes of replacing an inadequate animal shelter and seeking more money to hire additional employees.
In reviewing an operational audit, interim chief Bill Hutchison said he would ask the Animal Services Division budget be upped 20 percent from about $1.5 million this year to about $1.8 million next year.
The additional money would provide better staffing, including an onsite veterinarian, he said Thursday
during a Manatee County Commission workshop.
He reviewed 26 recommendations from a $53,000 report done by the Matrix Consulting Group of Edwardsville, Ill., which found "serious deficiencies" in existing shelter operations. Of the recommendations: "All are important and will reshape the culture," said Hutchison.
One most significant change was modifying the county agreement with local rescue groups caring for shelter animals to ensure an appropriate standard of care.
"It will give Manatee County the right to inspect facilities without notice if foul play is suspected," he said. "Manatee County Animal Services will not transfer rescued animals without the right to perform inspections."
That is important because county workers persistently sent shelter animals to an East Manatee sanctuary despite warnings it was substandard.
John Marble, a volunteer dog walker at the county shelter in Palmetto, called for a "world-class facility" that would make everyone proud.
"It's going to take a community effort. It takes money," he said. "One thing I have realized is: There's thousands and thousands of animal lovers in Manatee County."
Lori Gurley confessed 18 months ago she hated Animal Services, but said she has had a change of heart.
"If people can't or won't help you, we can't succeed and our animals will suffer," she told the commission.
Some recommendations will be reviewed by the commission in the next couple of weeks, said Deputy County Administrator Karen Windon.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.