(Crystal A. Proxmire, 2/24/2011)
Oakland County is in the process of revamping their Animal Control Division to account for an expected increase in cities using their services. The massive restructuring has come about due to officials in Ferndale learning that 39 communities have been enjoying service from the County for free, while 22 municipalities have been managing it themselves at their own expense. The official plan is still being worked out by the Oakland County Executive’s office, but County Commissioners have moved forward with the expectation of service costs increasing.
At the Jan. 20, 2011 Oakland County Commissioners meeting, Board Members voted to allow the purchase of six new vehicles for the Animal Control Division and to increase the budget for fuel and leased vehicles “to accommodate the increase in activity estimated with expanding services Countywide.”
During the 2010 budgeting process, The City of Ferndale cut Animal Control Services and began seeking alternative methods of dealing with animal issues. At a special budget meeting of March 29, 2010 Council heard from then Police Chief Michael Kitchen about the City’s previous expenses for animal control. The position was ultimately eliminated to save the City $118,000 a year. Animal Control Officer John Waller had been providing service in Ferndale and to Hazel Park under an agreement between the cities. But Hazel Park decided not to renew the contract and not have animal control at all. (http://www.ferndale115.com/20100401departments.html)
Between Ferndale and Hazel Park, Officer Waller had responded to 719 runs in his last year of work. These include calls for stray animals, bite cases, and removing dead animals. Waller also maintained the animal shelter, which has now been taken over by the volunteers of Waggs and Wishes.
Once the City decided to cut Animal Control, they realized that was not legal. The Animal Control Statute of 1919 requires cities to provide some animal control services such as removal of dangerous animals, processing of animal bite cases and quarantine of animals that have bitten a person, and licensing of dogs.
Further research by the Ferndale Police Department revealed that some cities had been getting Animal Control services through the County for little to no cost. Tim Collins, the current Police Chief, was Captain at the time. “When Captain Collins came to me with information that other cities were getting Animal Control for free from the County, I was floored,” said then County Commissioner Dave Coulter. “I thought he must have been looking at the numbers wrong. Collins had called the police departments and spoke with them individually. I thought maybe they were paying for it, but that it was somehow being billed to another department. But no, he was absolutely right.”
Coulter took the information gathered by Collins and talked with fellow Commissioners Dave Woodward (Royal Oak) and Tim Burns (Clawson) about how to get the same level of service for the communities they represent. Coulter represented the 25th District, which includes Ferndale, Hazel Park and the southern part of Royal Oak. They approached Jerry Poisson, Deputy County Executive, and managed to get plans in place for a change.
“If you look at the map, you’ll see that the service area is like a big ‘L,” Coulter said. The most northern and western communities have been getting service for free.” Places like Auburn Hills, Clarkston, Holly, Waterford, South Lyon, Novi and West Bloomfield have had no expense. Southern cities like Ferndale, Hazel Park, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Huntington Woods, Troy, Southfield and Pontiac have paid for their own management.
“I don’t want to vilify the County on this,” Coulter said. “The reason it came about was because years and years ago when the northern part of the county was rural, cities didn’t need their own animal control. Cities had the option of using County Services, which were minimal, or opting out and providing their own. A lot of cities did that so they could have their own animal shelters and their own officers responding to things like complaints. It was a choice cities made in better times. And this is the first that any city has taken a look at opting back in.”
“It evolved over the years and no one had any reason to question it, until last year when Captain Collins started asking questions. He requested an estimate from the County and they gave him a number slightly lower than what we were paying already. He started calling around and found out that some cities don’t pay at all.
‘To their credit, once we brought it to the County Executive’s attention they went to work to create a new plan that is fair to everyone,” Coulter said. “They owned up to the situation and have created a solution.”
While the details of the final plan are still being hashed out, the County has moved forward with some details, including the allocation of six more vehicles and gas allowance for those.
“The County has a problem now in that they are just as strapped for cash as we are,” Coulter said. “They have to provide an equal level of service to every city that opts back in. That means some cities are unhappy because their service will go down, while in this area cities like Ferndale are happy because we’ll be getting more service from the County.”
There are some downsides to accepting County Animal Control Service. According to Coulter we will have to give up any income that is received from dog licensing fees, and the City may not be involved in Animal Control Services, including ownership or control of the Animal Shelter, which is currently being managed by volunteers from Waggs and Wishes. Once the plan is worked out, Waggs and Wishes will have a better idea of the shelter’s fate.
Coulter is no longer representing Ferndale as County Commissioner. Instead County Commissioner Craig Covey says he plans on carrying the torch forward with the Animal Control issue. On Jan. 20 he voted in favor of expanding the County Animal Control fleet, and he is expected to present an update on the situation at the Jan. 24 City Council meeting.
For more budget and government news, see our Politics and Government Section – http://oaklandcounty115.com/category/politics/.