Animal control: JPs reject proposed ordinance on split vote

Friday, August 23, 2019

By Scott Loftis

Carroll County justices of the peace expressed empathy with a resident who addressed them Monday night about a neighbor who she says keeps more 40 dogs on an adjacent property, and several agreed that the county needs some sort of animal control law, but they ultimately voted down a proposed ordinance on the subject.

By a vote of 7-4, the county quorum court rejected the proposed ordinance that would have established county regulation of “nuisance’ animals as well as maintenance of premises and disturbing noises.

The proposed ordinance defined a nuisance animal as one that “damages, soils, defiles or defecates on private property other than the owner’s, or public walks and recreation areas; causes unsanitary, dangerous, or offensive conditions; causes a disturbance by excessive barking or other noise making; molests, attacks, or interferes with persons in the public right-of-way; or chases vehicles or attacks domestic animals.”

The proposed ordinance included exemptions for livestock and poultry.

District 8 JP Don McNeely, whose district includes portions of Green Forest and rural eastern Carroll County, sponsored the proposed ordinance after being advised by property owner Natasha Gee of a problem with dogs on a neighboring property.

McNeely said he visited the property and counted 12 to 15 dogs in ramshackle pens along with a “big old hound dog” chained to a stump with no water or food bowls.

McNeely played a brief audio recording of dogs barking on the property, then told his fellow JPs that when he approached the front door to speak with the resident, he saw “a big old pit bull, chained up with the thinnest chain you’ve ever seen on a pit bull, to the steps to his front porch.”

McNeely, who works in a local hardware store, said “that chain is not decent for a swingset, much less a big old pit bull.”

McNeely said he waited for more than 10 minutes but never saw the resident. He described the noise as “unbearable.”

“Everybody knows that 99.99 percent of Carroll County citizens are not going to have this kind of problem next door, so it’s not going to affect a whole lot of people, but protecting somebody that does have that problem,” McNeely said. “… I don’t know if this guy thinks he’s rescuing these dogs or what, but they’d be better off wild, running with coyotes, than the position they’re in now.”

Gee also spoke, saying there are more than 40 dogs on the adjacent property and chronic problems with noise, odors and trash being strewn on her property.

District 6 JP Craig Hicks, a Berryville police officer, said he doesn’t oppose the idea of an animal control ordinance but was concerned that the county might not have the appropriate resources to enforce McNeely’s proposal.

“I’m assuming that this is going to fall under the duties of the sheriff’s office,” Hicks said, adding that increased call volume might be too much for the sheriff’s office to handle.

Hicks asked Carroll County Sheriff’s Office Lt. John Contreras for his thoughts on the issue.

“We completely agree with an animal ordinance because it is a pain, but I foresee our call volume probably getting close to double, because we handle a lot of animal calls right now,” Contreras said.

Violating the proposed ordinance would have been declared a misdemeanor with a fine of $100 for each violation. Contreras said that when deputies respond to a call, they cannot write a citation if a subject denies owning a nuisance animal.

“When my deputy goes out to the call, to these animal issues, they go talk to the neighbor and the neighbor says: ‘It’s that guy’s dog over there.’ Well, my deputy goes and talks to that guy over there and he says: ‘That’s not my dog.’ I can’t even issue a citation at that point. So I think it goes from us being overwhelmed when we’re already understaffed, because our call volume keeps increasing all the time, to now I’ve got a removal problem, and I have nowhere to go with that. I have nothing I can do with the animal.”

District 3 JP Harrie Farrow said she would like to see a provision in the proposed ordinance for a warning on the first call, and to have violations classified as “infractions rather than misdemeanors.”

On a roll call vote, Farrow and Hicks voted against the proposed ordinance along with District 4 JP Marty Johnson, District 5 JP Matt Phillips, District 9 JP Roger Hall, District 10 JP Larry Swofford and District 11 JP John Howerton. Voting in favor of the proposal were McNeely, District 1 JP Jack Deaton, District 2 JP Chuck Olson and District 7 JP Kellie Matt.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, JPs:

• unanimously approved a resolution authorizing County Judge Sam Barr to enter into a grant agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration for a survey of the Carroll County airport and surrounding property;

• unanimously approved a supplemental ordinance to reimburse the Elections department for funds received by the county from local school districts to pay for school elections;

• unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing the purchase of a 2015 John Deere tractor from Barr by the county road department and declaring an emergency;

• unanimously approved a resolution authorizing Barr to execute the necessary documents to renew a line of credit with Equity Bank of Berryville on behalf of the Carroll County Airport commission;

• and unanimously approved a supplemental appropriation ordinance to appropriate a total of $5,332.32 from several county departments to pay for updates and maintenance for the county’s revamped website.

JPs also discussed the need for the county to hire a communications coordinator to replace Sam Ward. Swofford said the quorum court’s personnel committee likely will recommend that the county combine that position with the emergency management coordinator’s position, since the OEM coordinator already has an office, a vehicle and a budget. Combining the positions would allow the county to mitigate the expense of a separate communications coordinator, Swofford said.

During the segment of the meeting reserved for the county judge’s comments, Barr said he doesn’t agree with the idea of combining the two positions because a person qualified to fill the combined job likely would have to be paid $100,000 a year or more and likely would need additional staff.

JPs took no action on a communications coordinator.

The quorum court’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16, in the courtroom of the Carroll County Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville.

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