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Chief: City Ready to Take Over Animal Control

A major supporter of shifting animal control from the county to the city has strong misgivings about the effort as the City Council prepares to review the ordinance.

Despite concerns from a major leader of the effort, New Port Richey is set to move ahead with a plan to sever ties with the county and take over animal control duties by Oct. 1, the city police chief said.

Police Chief James Steffens on Monday likened the effort to building a house when progress at first seems slow then becomes apparent at work accelerates at the end.

The ordinance that shifts the job of handling animal complaints to the city and volunteers comes up for its first of two necessary votes at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The proposal has the potential to save New Port Richey $20,000 to $30,000 after fully operational and provide faster response time to animal complaints, backers say.

The change is set to start Oct. 1 when the city’s contract with Pasco County for animal control ends.

However in a letter to the city council, Sharon McReynolds, volunteer program coordinator for what is being called the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit, expressed concerns over the ordinance council members are set to review.

McReynolds and veterinarian Terry Spencer were among the spearheads of the change.

Among problems McReynolds cited were a deadline only six weeks away, liability insurance and changes in the proposed ordinance that eliminated what planners counted on as a main source of revenue.

McReynolds wrote that the need for certified engineering plans may make it difficult to finish building kennels at the police station as planned. The eight to 10 dog runs were envisioned to hold up to 15 dogs, depending on breed and temperament.

“You don’t just put up some cages and catch a few stray dogs. Had we known it would have become this, we never would have continued,” McReynolds wrote.

She also wrote the ordinance eliminated mention of licensing and fees, despite the fact planners for the volunteer portion of the effort saw fees as a source of revenue to keep the service running.

“Licensing allowed for prompt return of lost animals as well as a significant income included in our projected profit and loss,” the letter said.

Other problems McReynolds cited include the need for volunteers working as animal control officers to have insurance beyond coverage for accidents and the fact only one city officer has received certification as an animal control officer.

The original plan included two certified officers and one would accompany trained volunteers when answering animal complaints.

However, Steffens said the city will be ready to respond to animal complaints.

“I appreciate the anxiety but we’re going to get it done,” Steffens said.

He said the kennels will not take six weeks to complete, though work will be pushing the deadline.

“It’s going to be close, I won’t argue with that,” he said.

Also, the city’s human resources department is working to resolve insurance issues, Steffens said.

Only one officer and one volunteer have been certified to act as animal control officers and the lone officer will have to do for now. Ultimately the chief wants three of the city’s officers certified to handle dog complaints.

Though not expressed in her letter, another concern may be the ordinance only calls for responding to dog complaints and not cats. Cats can be added later to a revised ordinance, Steffens said.

“We need to be sure we can handle dogs first. Cats can come later,” he said.

In her letter, McReynolds did not specifically mention withdrawing support for the plan.

But volunteers are necessary to make it work, Steffens said. The Police Department cannot do the job alone and without help from the volunteers, the city will have to negotiate with Pasco County for help, he said.

The council meets at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 5919 Main St.         

What do you think about the proposal? Let us know in the comments section.

Terry Spencer, DVM August 21, 2012 at 12:15 PM
I completely withdraw my support for this effort as it in no way resembles the plan I proposed. This plan will not provide better service to citizens of NPR and has the potential to make animal welfare worse than the current situation. The City would be best served by continuing its contract with the County and stopping this last second make-shift attempt.
Rob Marlowe August 22, 2012 at 11:27 AM
The council approved a revised ordinance on first reading last night. Much work continues to need to be done and Mrs. McReynolds is working closely with city staff to make this happen. As with many things that have to be worked through in the glare of Florida's "Sunshine", this process has been somewhat messy. I suspect that the final outcome will bear little resemblance to either the version of the ordinance that Terry objected to or to the later version that we saw and approved on first reading last night. Thank you to all the folks in the community who are volunteering to pitch in and make this project a reality.
Kecia Adams August 22, 2012 at 12:29 PM
If Dr. Spencer has a concern about the execution of this plan, then I have a concern as well. If her expertise is not being utilized to the fullest extent, I'm not sure the point of moving forward.
Rob Marlowe August 22, 2012 at 05:27 PM
One of the things that slowed progress down was Dr. Spencer moving away from the area. I've known Dr. Spencer for 50 years and have a deep respect for her on both a personal and professional level, however, there are still vets in West Pasco that we can work with, so there is no reason not to try to get this project launched.
Kecia Adams August 23, 2012 at 04:55 PM
But there are no vets in West Pasco that stepped up to initialize this plan and perform the due dilligence without compensation as Dr. Spencer has. I hope that her concerns are addressed.

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