Dunes City contemplates IGA for animal services

A possible agreement with Lane County brings up issues of animal enforcement, city sovereignty

Aug. 11, 2018 — In Wednesday’s Dunes City Council meeting, the council discussed the possibility of entering into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Lane County Animal Services Enforcement Services. The agreement would require Lane County to provide “limited” enforcement services, including court appearances and prosecution, for animal control related issues.

The issues would be responded to in order of priority, covering animal bites, animals endangering public safety, injured animals and neglect/abuse to animals.

Currently, the city has no mechanisms to regulate animal control events.

“I do think something is necessary because it concerns me that, without anything in place, there could be a serious problem,” City Council President Robert Orr said.

But the agreement with the county has many drawbacks, according to council members, including price, regulatory oversight and the ability to pay for the program.

A final decision on the IGA was tabled until further consideration could be taken.  

The discussion began with Councilor Duke Wells asking how many complaints come into city staff regarding animal control issues.

“It varies, and it runs in spurts,” said Dunes City Administrator Jamie Mills. “When we get one complaint, we start getting several. They start rolling in, and then they stop for a while. We might get one call a year, we might get a bunch of calls. You never what’s going to happen.”

Because of the sporadic nature of the issues, the IGA calls for billing the city on an “as needed” basis, instead of an annual fee that would provide services year-round.

However, the price for per-basis enforcement was considered too large by many council members. The hourly rate for enforcement services comes in at $133.18 per officer, per hour. That rate is calculated from the time the Lane County Animal Services Welfare Officer is dispatched.

Dunes City Mayor Robert Forsythe questioned what would occur if an officer was on the other side of the county at the time of a call.

It’s possible the control officer would require a three-hour commute just to get the city, let alone take care of the problem. The cost for one officer per incident could potentially cost city taxpayers more than $1,000.

The council was also hesitant to move forward with a decision because Lane County would require the city to follow the county’s own codes.

“We have to adopt everything the county does, even just for those special circumstances,” Councilor Susan Snow pointed out.

Those regulations are found in Chapter 7 of Lane County Code, which specifically deals with animal control. The 14-page document has regulations on issues such as animal neglect, abandonment, biting and other dangerous behaviors.

The code also has dog licensing requirements, which Dunes City currently does not require.

The council has displayed aversion to such requirements in the past.

In 2005, the city passed specific code regulating animal control issues, but it was repealed in 2017 due to it being “intrusive, unnecessary and expensive to enforce,” per the appeal.

“We don’t have any staff to take care of the problem,” Forsythe said. “What if something happened to staff on the job, or tore up city property or severely injured staff? We’re not insured for that.”

As of now, the only real enforcement of animal issues rests in the hands of the Lane County Sheriff's Office.

In case of a life-threatening emergency, Forsythe explained that the department would send an officer to determine what action should be taken.

But if it’s a situation that does not need the endangerment threshold, city staff would be forced to intervene. However, without an official written code, city staff are helpless in issuing citations.

Even if the city were to draft code, its ability to impose it would be limited.

“If we wrote a citation, they may or may not pay it because we don’t have a way to enforce,” Forsythe said.

This is because the city currently does not have a proper judicial system to enforce citations. In November, Dunes City has a ballot proposal that would help alleviate this problem, entering into an agreement with a municipal judge that would hear cases brought by the city.

While that would give city officials more leverage in enforcing citations, it’s possible that the city could lose funding for staffing to enforce those citations in the first place.

Due to a combination of a decade-old oversight and changing state regulations, Dunes City could stand to lose anywhere from $70,000 to $100,000 annually. That money, which is divided out to cities by the state, is derived from a variety of shared tax revenue sources including cigarette, liquor and gas tax.

The catch is, only cities with a property tax can receive those funds. Currently, the city does not have any sort of property tax.

To help alleviate this problem, a second measure will be on the November ballot. That measure would request a small levy of $0.005 per $1,000 of assessed property value, which would cost property owners anywhere from $1 to $10 annually, depending on property value.

While the city does not expect a financial windfall from the residents themselves through the levy, the mere existence of a “tax” would allow the city to retain the state funds.

“Those two measures are critical to the existence of the city,” Forsythe said. “If we have no teeth in our codes, and no tax money so we can get people to do those things, then why are we here?”

If the two measures don’t pass, Forsythe and Wells believed the future for animal control in the city could be grim. If the levy doesn’t pass, there would be no funds to pay for the IGA. If the municipal judge isn’t brought in, no animal code enforcement would exist.

They also said that if neither measure passes, it’s possible the entire city could be dissolved.

“We’ve been a bedroom community for a long time, but the growing pains are getting evident,” Wells said. “I don’t like larger government, but at the same time you have to have livability. There are more and more people living in Dunes City. It’s not the same place that it was.”  


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