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Assembly discusses options for animal control

 


Haines Borough Assembly members floated several ideas for dealing with animal control following manager David Sosa’s proposed cuts to the Haines Animal Rescue Kennel, including moving the dog-catching responsibility to Public Works or taking money from the nonprofit “community chest” to partially restore funding for the HARK contract.

Assembly members briefly discussed the HARK contract last week. The proposed cuts would slash the contract from $47,800 to $16,200, effectively eliminating the nonprofit’s animal control officer position. Sosa’s plan would cut the contract and move dog-catching responsibilities to police officers, but would still rely on HARK to board the animals, care for them, and return them to their owners.

Assembly member George Campbell proposed taking $16,000 from the budget’s $32,500 “community chest” and moving that money to the HARK contract. That would boost the HARK contract to $32,200 – still one-third less than the regular contract – and leave the community chest with $16,500.

The community chest is distributed to local nonprofits annually through an application process separate from the budget.

Assembly member Dave Berry didn’t have a problem with cutting the HARK contract, but said he would rather see the borough’s Public Works department take over dog-catching duties, or at least share the duties with the police officers on an as-needed basis.

Berry said he thought the Public Works vehicles were more conducive to dog-catching.

HARK board president Tara Bicknell wrote assembly members after learning of the cuts, outlining the history of HARK and why it is the entity best suited for animal control duties. The nonprofit started as an animal shelter in 2001, but didn’t take over animal control duties until later, when “public outcry about how the police department was handling animal control” made it clear HARK should take over the duties, Bicknell said.

The borough’s $48,000 makes up one-third of the organization’s $150,000 annual budget and goes toward the animal control officer, around-the-clock response to animal problems, licensing, boarding of animals and returning animals to their owners, Bicknell said.

“HARK does not have to hold a contract with the borough, and won’t be able to enter into a contract that ends up costing HARK to assist the police department in animal control,” Bicknell said.

Bicknell pointed out officers do not have the specialized training, vehicles or the experience to care for sick, injured or lost animals.

“HARK has the trained personnel, vehicle and facilities to handle animal control for the borough and has done a great job fulfilling the contract for years at a fraction of what it would cost if it were a government duty,” she said.

Bicknell also expressed frustration that HARK was left out of the loop before the budget was released and the proposed cuts made public. “The idea to discontinue this service should have been researched and at least should have involved discussions with HARK about what the job entails and how the borough envisions working with HARK after cutting the contract,” she said.

Assembly member Ron Jackson referenced Bicknell’s letter and said he didn’t think the animal control job and a police officer position were “easily swappable.”

“There is more complexity in picking up an animal” than just picking it up off the street, Jackson said.

He also noted that while many borough departments are being cut by several percent, the HARK cut amounts to 66 percent. “I can’t see cutting HARK that much,” Jackson said.

Assembly member Joanne Waterman said she thought if the animal control duty went back to the police, follow-through would be “nonexistent.”

“What happens in these situations and has happened in the past is that animal control will fall to the bottom and it will be overlooked and it will not happen,” Waterman said.

Sosa said he is keeping a list of items assembly members bring up during the committee-of-the-whole budget sessions and will revisit them when the document comes up for public hearing and the entire assembly can vote on them. Assembly members can’t make motions during committee-of-the-whole meetings.

Sosa said an officer would receive some training for dealing with animal control duties, and the cost of that would mainly be associated with officers’ time. The training would cost “well below” that of funding the animal control officer, he said.

The HARK contract has been funded with money from the state’s Community Jails program. The borough is currently facing a $270,000 cut in funding from that program.

 
 

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