Lack of action by Hancock County Commission
To the editor:
July 1, 2016, the Hancock Commission refused to renew the Animal Shelter Operation contract with a nonprofit which had operated the county shelter for over 20 years.
They immediately requested a legal opinion from the W. Va. Attorney General’s Office regarding legal rights to a balance of over $360,000 in Animal Shelter Excess Levy funds raised on behalf of the nonprofit. In March 2017 the attorney general provided a legal opinion stating that neither the nonprofit nor the commission had a legal right to the accumulated funds. He recommended these funds be returned to county taxpayers and recommended the commission discuss how to return the funds with the State Auditor’s Office.
Yes, over four years ago the attorney general’s office recommended the accumulated Excess Levy funds be returned to county taxpayers. In December 2018, John McCluskey from the State Auditor Office attended a Hancock County Commission meeting regarding a different issue. He stated the last time he was in Hancock County was to discuss the Animal Shelter Excess Levy money situation. He then asked the commission “Did you get the issue cleared up?”
As of today, the Hancock County Commission has not publicly committed to implement the attorney general’s recommendation. Why? Since 2016, two new commissioners have been elected with both having campaigned on “resolving the animal shelter issues.” But no action has occurred. Why? Also in 2016, the commission asked the nonprofit operating the animal shelter to sponsor and promote a new Animal Shelter Excess Levy.
However, the commission modified the levy language to insure the tax dollars raised were no longer directed to the nonprofit as the previous levies mandated. These changes insured the commission assumed control of the new levy money beginning July 2016. The same date the commissioners took over control of the shelter.
When the residents of Hancock County voted for the May 2016 and the 2020 Animal Shelter Excess Levies, did they understand they were voting to support funding for: a new county director position with a compensation package worth over $70,000; two new full-time positions at the animal shelter; $2 wage increase for part-time shelter workers; and, patio equipment and other amenities for employees and visitors to enjoy?
Or did they believe the additional tax dollars were to improve the environment and care-taking of the animals. The only thing shelter animals have received since the commission take-over is a doubling of the shelter animal death rate. Why won’t the commissioners publicly state they will accept the attorney general’s legal opinion? Can county residents trust them to do the right thing? Status quo is always easy but sometimes doing what is right takes work. After four years, asking the commission to publicly state their intent to return the Excess Levy money the attorney general said they have no right too should not take a lot of courage.