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City, county beginning new animal control discussions

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Beth B. Ward, center, county commisioner, speaks to fellow commisioners and city council members during a joint meeting held at Shepard Memorial Library on Aug. 17, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Greenville City Council and Pitt County Board of Commissioners directed staff to renew discussions about the county assuming animal control services in the city.

Both boards unanimously approved motions directing discussions to begin during a joint meeting at Sheppard Memorial Library on Thursday.

The boards also received a report on the outcome of a retail development study authorized in late 2016 and what steps the consultants who authored the study have taken to bring in new retail business. The presenters also spoke about the reasons a Wal-Mart development north of the Tar river stalled.

Pitt County Commissioner Tom Coulson started the discussion about animal services after Pitt County Animal Services Director Michele Whaley gave an update on the services her agency provides and how the county has increased the number of live releases from the shelter and decreased euthanasia rates.

"I asked that this be a subject matter to bring before the city because I made a proposal that the city and county join services," Coulson said.

Under the existing system, Pitt County government provides animal control services in the unincorporated areas of the county. Several small municipalities also work with the county to provide services. Greenville and other municipalities house some stray animals in the county shelter when there is room, and often rely on shelter staff to euthanize animals.

In recent years, the City of Greenville has lowered the number of animals it takes to the county shelter by contracting with kennels.

In 2016, Coulson said the city and county should discuss unification of animal services to resolve difficulties in managing the number of animals being brought into the shelter. Coulson said that if county government took over animal control operations, not only in Greenville but in all Pitt County municipalities, it would justify a possible tax increase to expand the existing shelter.

The talks went nowhere, Coulson said, but he still believes the idea should be pursued. A single provider would be easier for local residents, clearing up confusion about which agency they should call when looking for a lost pet or inquiring about a need to surrender pets, he said.

Greenville Councilman Rick Smiley asked city staff how far the conversation had progressed. Coulson said Pitt County County Manager Scott Elliott and Whaley provided a presentation to council, but the discussions ended quickly. Elliott said there were concerns that the county wouldn’t provide the same level of service the city did.

Greenville Mayor Kandie Smith said she believes there was concern that the city would see its level of animal control services decrease while being asked to pay an animal services fee.

Outgoing City Manager Barbara Lipscombe was at Thursday's meeting, but sat in the audience with staff. No one called on her to speak.

New City Manager Ann E. Wall said that since she didn’t know the background, she wanted to research the proposal’s history and talk with the county manager.

Smith said the county and city have a history of jointly operating Sheppard Memorial Library and the Pitt-Greenville Airport, so it was worth having a discussion about animal control services.

Smith also used the moment to express her displeasure with the Board of Commissioners supporting a resolution asking that airport runways and taxiways be exempted from property billed for stormwater fees. The General Assembly approved the legislation earlier this summer, which decreased the revenue the city receives in stormwater fees.

Smith called the decision "disheartening" because the commissioners adopted the resolution without given city officials a chance to discuss the situation.

Retail growth

In December the city and county, in partnership with Uptown Greenville and with a grant from ElectriCities, entered into a three-year contract with Alabama-based Retail Strategies to undertake a study of the community's retail market and a recruitment stragety which a focus on bringing more retail business to areas north of the Tar River and to downtown Greenville. The consultants also would recruit businesses and developers to the community.

Retail Strategies wrapped up its study in June, said Roger Johnson, Greenville's economic development manager. The company recommends focusing on health and wellness companies, with an emphasis on building a pharmacy in northern Pitt County. There also is a need for speciality grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s and restaurants, said Christian Lockamy, Greenville's economic development research manager.

Lockamy said recommending the recruitment of more restaurants may be surprising, but as retail stores decline, the restaurant industry is growing at a rate of 40 percent.

The consultants’ study found that on a monthly basis, 692,383 people shop in Greenville and Pitt County, coming from as far east at Edenton and as far west from Interstate 95. The median household income of these shoppers is $40,474 annually.

On a weekly basis, 236,884 people shop locally and are mainly from Pitt and the counties iimmediately east of it. The median household income of this group is $42,120.

"We have a very large retail footprint," Lockamy said.

However, Greenville loses approximately $25 million annual to people shopping in Raleigh and Charlotte. That’s because Greenville lacks speciality stores, lawn and garden retailers and furniture retailers, he said.

Another weakness is the area’s median income, Lockamy said. While it is in the low $40,000s, retailers such as Trader Joe's, DSW and PF Chang’s want median household incomes ranging between $50,000 and $75,000, he said.

Bringing in more retail business will benefit Greenville and Pitt County, Lockamy said.

A chain restruant typically has a tax value of $1 million, bringing in $12,000 in combined city and county property tax revenue and $56,250 in sales tax. A big box retailer with a tax value of $5 million would generate $60 million in combined property tax and more than $146,000 in sales tax.

Retail Strategies already has contacted 65 retailers and project developers, Lockamy said. That work will continue along with developing marketing materials pinpointing specific businesses.

Johnson said there has already been interest expressed in opening a pharamcy north of the river, although he couldn't release details.

Smith asked if the airport is identified as a development area. Lockamy said no, but would ask for its inclusion.

Commissioner Jimmy Garris asked why Wal-Mart never opened at a location off U.S. 264 Bypass near Belvoir Highwa.

Johnson said he could not a written response from Wal-Mart about the reason. Lockamy said city staff was told the project was shelved because construction costs were too high.

Lipscombe said city staff has heard the project could go out to bid in 2019.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

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