Animal control ordinance introduced

An amended animal control ordinance for the City of Borger is officially moving forward.During its regular meeting Tuesday, the Borger City Council acted to introduce an ordinance to amend the City of Borger Code of Ordinances pertaining to animal control. Eddie Edwards, Borger City Manager, said the city’s current ordinance regulating animals is located in Chapter 2 of the Code of Ordinances. He said he is not sure when the original ordinance was first adopted, but it has been modified numerous times.The ordinance underwent numerous changes in 1998, 2003, 2005, and during re-codification in 2006.“The ordinance in its present form is haphazardly written, does not logically flow, and appears to be piecemealed together to address specific issues that have arisen over the years,” Edwards said.He said over the last several months, city staff has researched animal control ordinances of various cities throughout the state. According to Edwards, the city has put together a comprehensive ordinance that it believes clearly defines and fairly regulates the keeping of animals within the city limits and the ETJ.“This ordinance is designed to logically flow beginning with the purpose and definitions,” he said. “The ordinance clearly establishes both the animal control authority, the local rabies animal control authority, and defines the duties and enforcement authority.”The ordinance also addresses general offenses and presumption of ownership, which has been a constant issue for the city in municipal court. It introduces registration and permitting in certain instances pertaining to dangerous animals, horses, livestock, and/or other animals, as well as multi-animal permitting on a case-specific basis. This pertains to the harboring of more than four animals per location.“While we tend to think ordinances are to protect health, safety, and welfare of humans, this ordinance also provides for animal protection as well,” Edwards said. “More often than not, our animal control officers see many types of animal neglect, abuse and/or outright cruelty.”Should the neglect or abuse not rise to the level of a state statute, the city has previously not been able to act on the animal’s behalf. The ordinance also covers rules pertaining to dangerous animals in detail, rabies, and impoundment and commercial animal enterprises.During a work session last October, the council decided to hold a public hearing before the proposed animal control ordinance was introduced to give the public time to express its views. The council also had staff place this ordinance on the City of Borger web site, as well as a schedule of events for adopting the ordinance.In early November, the council conducted the public hearing and heard various comments on the ordinance. There were some positive comments voiced, but other members of the public took issue with parts of the proposed ordinance.Edwards said throughout the past few weeks since the public hearing, city staff has addressed many of the issues that were brought up during the hearing. As a result, the ordinance has been modified in various areas, including rabies vaccinations, quarantines, commercial animal enterprises, and entry onto private property.Other areas brought up by the public were modifying the running at large rule as it pertains to cats, definitions of harboring and ownership, and strict liability. These have not been changed, Edwards said.“Under the current definitions of harboring and ownership, animal control officers have repeatedly encountered difficulty in resolving animal ordinance issues,” he said. “Staff continues to believe that these sections and specifically the more restrictive harboring and ownership sections of the ordinance will enable the animal control officers to better address both the rights of the animal owner and the rights of adjacent or nearby property owners who might be aggrieved by an animal nuisance.”Edwards said a meeting was held recently to discuss the proposed ordinance. The intent of the meeting was to bring together city staff, at least three individuals with varying viewpoints on the ordinance, and give council members the opportunity to participate.Citizen Harvey Hathaway cancelled, but Mayor Jeff Brain and Mayor Pro-Tem Robert Vinyard attended, along with citizens Robert Hamadi and Vicky Ramsey, and city staff members, Lt. Anthony Griffin of the Borger Police Department, Betsy Parks of the Animal Control Department, and Edwards.Edwards said the meeting was friendly and cordial, but the overall outcome was not a productive one. He said Ramsey was initially against the ordinance due to vaccine and commercial pet enterprise requirements. However, with those issues addressed, she now favors the ordinance passage.Edwards said he and Hathaway have spoken about the ordinance, and he has continually voiced opposition to it. He also said Hamadi is against the ordinance and views it in general as excessive government regulation.Hamadi’s specific points of opposition to the proposed ordinance include, but are not limited to removing the running at large regulations as they pertain to cats, removal of pet limits altogether, less restrictive harboring and ownership verbiage, and removal of strict liability, which as an example, would remove any criminal penalties from a person whose animal might escape and cause damage or injury to another.Another concern of the commenters was that the proposed ordinance was designed to make regulation of animals a profit center by the imposition of new fees and fines.“Regulation and control of animals is a basic governmental function primarily funded by ad valorem and sales taxes,” Edwards said. “Revenue from current fees is approximately $16,000 annually and does offset a small portion of the annual $200,000 budget for the animal control department.”Staff has estimated that at most, the total amount of additional annual revenue from increased or additional fees would not exceed $4,000.As far as fines, during 2011, animal control officers issued a total of 83 citations. Of these 83 citations, 38 were dismissed by either compliance with the ordinance, the complaining party dropping the charges, or a not guilty outcome in municipal court.The remaining citations were assessed a fine for violation of the ordinance. The total revenue from all animal fines during 2011 was $6,240, which breaks down to $3,360 to the city’s general fund and $2,880 to the State of Texas for court costs.“As you can plainly see, the expense associated with the regulation of animals could never be totally supported by the imposition of fines and/or fees,” Edwards said. “Also, the relatively small number of citations in comparison to our population (0.003 per capita) indicates that the animal control officers certainly do not abuse the authority of the ordinance.”