Public may vote on tax for animal facility
by Jazz Clark
Morgan County Commission President Stacy Dugan has proposed putting a special levy to pay for a new animal control facility on the November ballot to see if the public supported the idea.
“There’s been a lot of talk about giving the dogs a voice, I think that this will give the taxpayers and citizens of the county a voice,” Dugan said at the Thursday, June 21 meeting of the commissioners.
Though grant applications for the project are under way, this is another possible solution to a problem awash with controversy.
“Both Hancock and Harrison counties have put an excess levy on to pay for their new animal facility,” Dugan said.
To put the question on the November 6 ballot, the commission would have to work quickly, as cutoff time to add to the ballot is in early August.
Dugan didn’t expect an immediate decision, but wanted to break out some information to the public.
Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson wanted to be clear that she is not in favor of the proposal, since her name is so closely associated to animal control issues.
“This is not something I asked to be put on the agenda,” Hutchinson said. “There are other ways to fund a new facility and I do not want to create even more of a burden on the taxpayers.”
The commissioners are expected to discuss the special levy further at an upcoming meeting.
Claims sorted out
Libby Marquardt of Reach-Out Rescue came before the commission to voice concerns and suggest solutions based on her correspondence with local citizens.
Much of the truth of her report was thrown into disarray, however, by denials to her claims by part-time animal control officer Stephanie Nichols and accusations of hearsay by Commissioner Brad Close.
“While I appreciate the comments, I think we should keep the comments on the administration and facility, not any one person. And let’s try to keep it to the facts,” Close said.
Marquardt’s claim that the animals had not been fed and watered for three days following the seizure was unfounded, according to Nichols, who was on-site every day for that purpose.
Nichols also denied allegations that all of the animals were to be euthanized when the full-time officer came back from vacation, and that none of the animals received veterinary care except by volunteers.
Marquardt’s one undisputed complaint was that there were insects present in the dog food directly after seizure.
“The animal warden’s attitude is really bad and reflects poorly on Morgan County. That’s the point I’m trying to make with you all,” Marquardt said.
Animal Control progress
Jason Pearce, the county’s Animal Control Officer, updated the commissioners on the Rt. 9 kennels.
“Statistically, we’ve done a lot better than last year,” said Pearce. “Last year we put down 12 dogs in three months. This year we’ve put down three. I don’t want to put down dogs unless I absolutely have to.”
Pearce hoped that the number of dogs euthanized can be kept in the single digits this year.
One area of confusion is allegations of sewage leaking into the yard, but Pearce said the exposed tank in the dog yard cannot be reached by a dog and the surrounding ground is currently free of sewage.
The worst news was Pearce’s estimate that the ground will be completely contaminated in five years, so there will be a risk to dogs in the future.
Commissioner Hutchinson agreed with Pearce that aerating the soil could prove useful, and that the yard will have to be redone at some point.
“The current yard looks like a mudslide when it rains,” Hutchinson said.
Pearce also worries about the lack of security at the site.
“By all intents and purposes this is a county-owned site, and it is law enforcement,” he said. “I don’t want people coming in and thinking they can do whatever they like in the kennels. It’s a liability, and people can get hurt.”
Plans are in motion for improved kennel fence locks to protect the dogs.
Pearce noted that the county wasn’t 100% prepared for the animal seizure this spring. “Now we’ve learned from our mistakes and are prepared. Unfortunately, with a procedure like that, you cannot wait,” he said.
Pearce commended the volunteers and concerned citizens for their help and donations in a troubled time.
“Overall, the people who banded together on the night of the seizure should be commended,” said Commissioner Close. “That was no easy chore, and animal con-trol did the best they could with the resources they were given.”