Friday, April 23, 2010

Will county fund animal control officer?

County discusses partnership with cities, shelter to fund position


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

Angenie McCleary Blaine County Commissioner

The possibility of hiring a full-time animal control officer to cover all of Blaine County, including its cities, was raised during a county meeting on Tuesday.

The idea was brought up as part of a larger discussion related to the contract whereby the Blaine County Sheriff's Office handles all law enforcement duties in the city of Ketchum. The sheriff's office has been providing police services in Ketchum under the contract since July 1, 2009.

During a discussion about an overdue payment to the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley for its services to Ketchum, County Commissioner Larry Schoen raised the possibility of holding a discussion among the county, cities and the animal shelter about organizing animal control services. To date, such services have been operated separately by the county and some local cities.

"Is there any interest in countywide animal control?" Schoen asked.

To his question, Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said such a scenario might be a prudent way to go.

During the discussion, Jo-Anne Dixon, executive director of the animal shelter, said her organization might be interested in partnering with the county and local cities to hire a more professionally trained person to handle the many types of issues an animal control officer faces in Blaine County.

Those extend from the normal issues related to stray dogs to more complicated issues like neglected and malnourished horses, something that's been in the headlines in Blaine County in recent years. Only someone with professional training is truly capable of handling all these varied issues, Dixon said.

"There's a difference between a warm body and a trained professional," she said.

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During a recent interview, Dixon also advocated for the idea of a countywide animal control officer. She said she hopes Bellevue will sign a contract to pay for what has become a burden for the no-kill facility—impounds from residents who bring in strays from Bellevue.

"We are not an animal-control agency," Dixon said. "That is under the responsibility of the sheriff's office or municipal police departments."

During this week's meeting, the idea seemed to catch the interest of at least one other county leader, Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary.

"It seems to me that one person could serve the entire county," McCleary said.

Animal control services in Ketchum and the county are for now being handled by Blaine County sheriff's deputies. Last November, longtime Blaine County Animal Control Officer Kevin McMullin retired. Among his duties, McMullin had covered animal control issues in the county, Hailey and Bellevue.

At the end of Tuesday's discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to pay the past-due amount of $3,000 to the animal shelter for the third and fourth quarters of fiscal 2009. The money will come out of the funds Ketchum pays to the county for providing police services in the city.

The issue became complicated because there is no specific line item in the police contract that spells out the payment for animal control services. Rather, the funds come from a larger pool of money included in the overall budget that's to be used for unspecified items like animal control.

Femling said the sheriff's office and Ketchum are working to improve the year-to-year budgeting process for the police-services contract.

"We're going to do a better job at budgeting and understand what each one of those things cost us," Femling assured the commissioners.

Jason Kauffman: jkauffman@mtexpress.com




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