November 20, 2013 - City Administrator Mark Sime was within his authority in eliminating Crestwood's animal-control position, but aldermen postponed approval of updating the municipal code to align it with his decision.
The Crestwood Board of Aldermen voted 6-2 last week to approve the first reading of an ordinance that would repeal Chapter 6 of the city's municipal code, which requires the animal-control position, and replace it with new language that aligns to St. Louis County's criteria for animal control. Ward 2 Alderman Mary Stadter and Ward 4 Alderman Dan Tennessen were opposed.
A second reading was postponed to the Nov. 26 meeting due to lack of a unanimous vote to move toward a second reading last week.
Stadter told the board she has received a lot of telephone calls from residents who are concerned about ending animal control.
While St. Louis County will assume the animal-control duties, Stadter said a few points from a 2009 study on eliminating the animal control position should be noted.
The 2009 study stated that St. Louis County does not handle dead animals on the road — the Missouri Department of Transportation, or MoDOT, would remove the animal — or wildlife calls. Stadter said there was also concern about a "larger expense" to citizens if "an animal was found at large," noting that Crestwood's impoundment fees are lower than the county's.
Fees in Crestwood range from no cost to $100, while county fees range from $25 to $500 and can include court appearances.
"I'm not condoning people not watching their animals by any stretch of the imagination," Stadter said, "but I do want to make sure we're addressing the concerns of our citizens when I'm receiving so many calls about this issue."
Former Ward 4 Alderman Deborah Beezley was on the animal control task force when the 2009 study was conducted. She told the board that there was concern at that time from veterinarians from a "public-safety standpoint."
"(There are) lots of wild animals in this community. We had in our neighborhood a distempered raccoon (that) fell on a dog ... Small children were in the neighborhood," she said. "It's a very scary proposition when it does occur. Animal control was immediately present."
Beezley said at the time the study was conducted St. Louis County "indicated that their first priority probably wouldn't be Crestwood."
"I just want people in this community to understand we're giving up something very significant from a public safety standpoint in our community," she said.
Sime said the city "will not be waiting for MoDOT" to remove deceased animals from the road — the city's Public Works Department will resolve that issue if called.
He said he received one phone call from a resident opposed to eliminating the animal-control position and "numerous calls" from residents who approve of the decision.
"We had to weigh all of these factors against the saving money for the city and what we can better use the money for," Sime said.
The main factors in deciding to eliminate the position, according to Sime, were cost savings and duplication of services with what the county already provides.
In the 2014 budget, the animal-control position will not be funded, and Sime said it will be distributed throughout the budget and could be used "for any number of things."
A single work week consists of 168 hours and Sime said the animal-control officer works 40 hours, which is "less than one quarter of the work week."
"The rest of the time was already picked up by St. Louis County, so we're not changing much," Sime said. "... Decisions are not made willy-nilly in the city. They are well thought out and researched."
The city will save roughly $61,000 through the elimination of the position.
Former Ward 3 Alderman Greg Roby told the board he would like to see other options considered before eliminating the position.
"This is a community that's been spoiled by this particular service," he said, "and it's like anything else. Once you've had something, you get used to it. You don't want to give it up."
Roby suggested the following alternatives:
• Rent the animal-control facility to volunteers for $1 per year annually.
• Allow voters to decide whether or not the position should be eliminated.
• Propose a property tax "to cover the expense of this service" of $10 per household for citizens with dogs or cats for "the privilege of having that animal in their household."
The elimination of the city's animal-control position has been debated since former City Administrator Jim Eckrich recommended cutting the services in 2009 as part of a five-year cost-cutting plan.
The board deadlocked 4-4 twice — once in November 2009 and once in March 2010 — to eliminate the post. Former Mayor Roy Robinson broke both ties to retain the position. Last December, Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood's motion to eliminate the city's animal control position was defeated with a 5-3 vote.
Animal volunteer organizations
The updated code would make it easier for "animal-rescue type organizations" to operate in the city, according to Sime. Crestwood's current code states that animal-rescue organizations can have four animals in a household.
In the amended code, which is not specific to the animal-control location in Whitecliff Park, anyone interested in starting a rescue operation within Crestwood could apply through the public works department and house more than four animals, according to Sime.
Ward 4 Alderman Dan Tennessen said he would like to see clarification in the charter — after discussion with volunteers — that the animal-control facility could be available for volunteer use.
But Sime said if another person or organization wanted to use the current facility, they would not be able to "go out and pick up animals."
"We'd have to consider the liability to the city on this," he said. "And if these people are volunteering and the city is still maintaining control of the facility, then there is the potential that if somebody is injured, the city is then liable for workers compensation, so there are a lot of other factors available ..."
One volunteer organization has approached the city about using the facility, according to Mayor Jeff Schlink, and communication with the organization began "almost immediately" after the announcement of eliminating animal control.