Commissioners reflect on Monday night’s decision with animal control
Animal control has been a hot topic over the last few days.
A brief recap: During the Carter County Commission meeting on Monday evening, a resolution regarding animal control officers being given authority to enforce state laws was presented.
This occurred after a special called meeting was held in October regarding the Carter County Sheriff’s Office no longer being able to take on the responsibility, thus it fell back on the shelter.
The resolution did not pass during the meeting. The vote was 15 against and eight in favor.
The following are the thoughts and reasonings of three commissioners, two who voted against and one who voted in favor of the resolution.
• Commissioner Ginger Holdren (against):
• Commissioner Mike Hill (in favor):
• Commissioner Ross Garland (against):
The animal regulations were not properly vetted or considered in great detail before being presented to the full commission in my opinion. The first question that immediately came to mind was “Has anyone thought about the burden new citations will cause the court system?” The answer was that no one on the animal shelter board had inquired. I think the first step is to see if you have the backing from those that would be affected by the passing of new regulations. Secondly, our county attorney is a relative of our sessions court judge — is he able to prosecute animal law violators in front of that judge or will Carter County have to hire a judge from another county to try the cases? Even if the county attorney can prosecute, does the animal control board understand that the county attorney bills the county $100/hour (a compassionate rate for the county) — he is not on salary for this work.
Also, court fees must be paid up front from the county’s general fund in the amount of $161.50 for every citation written (leash law, disturbing the peace, etc). If the violator loses his case, then the judge can order payment of the fine and the court costs; so that begs the question — who in Carter County is ready and willing to pay a $15 fine plus the mandatory court costs of $161.50? I know what many of you are thinking because I thought the same way…”If they pay the $15 fine and don’t go to court, there is no court fee.” Wrong. These animal fines are very similar to speeding tickets in that the court fee is incurred at the time of the issuance of the ticket without regard to who goes to court and who just goes ahead and pays the fine. When someone tells you the maximum fine in the proposed regulations is $50, that really means $211.50 due to court costs. Many people cannot and some will not pay that fine. Then what? The monetary burden falls squarely on the shoulders of the taxpayer for the county attorney’s time, the court costs, and the violator’s fine. In trying to collect a fine of $15, it may cost the county $300 or more.
The sheriff’s funding for animal control was being transferred to the animal shelter if the new regulations had passed, but the animal shelter board was asking for two additional animal control officers. This was at a cost to the county of at least $100,000 per year ($50,000 now but we are halfway through a fiscal year so you need to double it to understand how it is really affecting the tax rate). We would need to increase the tax rate two cents to 2.49 just to cover these additional costs. This increases expenses for all citizens, even those who do not own pets. The regulations discuss the requirement of additional record keeping, so I know that means sometime soon the county will be asked for yet another employee at the shelter…another increase in taxes.
In 2018 the animal shelter budget was $338,677 and it was $420,416 in 2019. This past year we budgeted $439,767 for the animal shelter. If we approve the additional monies they have requested, that will bring their budget to approximately $539,767 in 2021 (note: the city paid a portion of this budget, $140,073.93 in 2020). We care about the director, her staff, the many volunteers, the benefactors, and, of course, the animals! Do the citizens of Carter County want us to continue increasing this particular budget? Taxpayers, talk to us — what do you support? What do you want us, the Commission, to do?
I have read comments from Director Posada that the shelter was just trying to enforce state law. I ask you to read the 13 page proposed regulations believing you will find new rules in addition to the referenced state code. The commission cannot and will not stand in the way of the enforcement of state laws. Everything that could be addressed locally concerning animals can still be remedied by our sheriff’s department today. The commission vote on Monday night in no way prohibits animal control. I am hopeful that everyone involved will choose reason, fiscal responsibility, and respectfulness as we work toward a solution that will benefit the animals and all of the citizens in the city and county.
Regarding the animal control vote last Monday, here are my thoughts,
The final resolution as presented corrected 100% of the serious concerns raised during “sheltergate” round 1:
1) assurances are given that hunting trapping fishing agricultural and veterinary activities are held exempt from the ordinances
2) the ordinances mirror existing state law and do not over reach or exceed state law in any way
3) the resolution grants authority to the shelter to administer animal control
The general consensus among my colleagues and constituents seems to be that the animal control services the CCSD has been able to provide are woefully inadequate, and that the CCSD should be tasked with preventing more heinous crimes ahead of animal control concerns. The animal shelter has no constituted authority without the proposed resolution, so they can’t provide such a service until something gets passed. I very much like the notion of giving the folks who are bearing the brunt of the animal control complaints from the public an opportunity to actively try and manage it better. Some talk of placement of an additional burden on the public was made on Monday. The simple fact is that under the proposed plan, only those individuals who repeatedly contribute to the volume of animal complaints received each year would be subject to a financial penalty, and the implied threat of that financial penalty might be enough of a deterrent to motivate those folks to finally keep up with their pets properly, since just asking nicely has obviously not been a successful approach. No animal control visits would be made unless a call had been received at 911 requesting service.
I was very impressed, and even proud of my District 2 colleague Patty Woodby for making the gutsy motion in the Budget Committee in support of implementation of animal control in the county.
A short week later, I was baffled after watching her move boldly in committee to bring this measure before the full commission, even making strong statements that animal control was a needed service for our citizens, and requesting an even larger allocation of funds than was originally submitted…to watch her flip and vote against her own measure along with 14 other colleagues. Some things require a true business acumen and simply should not be politicized.
I believe the ability to stand firm behind a difficult decision in deference to peer pressure is a necessary skill for the mayoral role, because anyone in that role will undoubtedly face these situations on a daily basis.
First, I have always supported the Animal Shelter, the Shelter board, and Mrs. Posada. My decision to not move forward with the resolution had nothing to do with limiting their abilities or a lack of sympathy for animals and animal owners. I wasn’t aware that not passing the resolution would hinder them in bringing on the Control Officer. I am for this position and the ability to enforce and regulate State Laws that are already in place. After a lengthy debate, at Monday’s meeting, I simply wasn’t comfortable enough to cast a confident vote of approval. With more understanding of the document’s purpose and a few questions I felt were left unanswered, I think that there will be more support if this comes back to the commission floor.