City formalizes partnership with county for animal control

The Morristown City Council on Tuesday formalized its partnership with Hamblen County government to separate animal-control duties from Morristown-Hamblen Humane Society shelter operations, a change officials predict will have a wide range of benefits that impacts all stakeholders.

Councilmembers voted unanimously to provide up to $45,000 a year to pay the salary, benefits, vehicle and other expenses for two full-time animal control officers. The Hamblen County Commission approved an identical amount for the ACOs, who will be under the authority of Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain.

Animal control officers will access the money on a drawdown, bill-for-services basis because the precise amount to fund operations remains unclear. The plans are to add two part-time ACOs in the future.

“I think we needed to add the animal control officers,” said Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney. “I think the humane society needed some relief for the animal control demands. I think Mayor Brittain studied the way another community does it, and how we can make it work, and we agree with him.”

The separation of animal control and shelter operations begins on Nov. 1, and the new arrangement will give the ACOs more authority, which will eliminate some animal-related calls currently being worked by the Morristown Police Department and Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department, according to Brittain.

The ACOs will undergo 80 hours of initial law enforcement training, along with 40 hours a year of continuing education, and will be bonded deputies, which will give them arrest and greater enforcement authority. Currently, when an ACO encounters an alleged violation of the law, a police officer or deputy has to be dispatched.

Brittain says the sheriff’s department was unwilling to bond the ACOS until they underwent training. Unlike police officers and deputies, however, they will not have to graduate from a law enforcement academy.

The county mayor says that humane society board members notified him in the summer that they no longer wanted to be involved in animal control. Brittain said he modeled Hamblen County’s plan after one that’s working well in Greene County.

Brittain says the humane society board believes separating the duties will help fundraising activities because potential donors will know all the money they give will be helping animals. The humane society has donated a used van to the ACOs, and will be providing office space.