MANSFIELD — Mansfield City officials met with Richland County commissioners on Thursday to discuss animal control in in the city, specifically as it relates to dangerous/vicious dogs running at large.
The issue of animal control has been addressed on several occasions (see left) by Mansfield City Council, and members ultimately agreed that a discussion with the Richland County Board of Commissioners was in order to help come up with a solution.
The commissioners, joined by Richland County Dog Warden Dave Jordan, met with Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker, Mansfield Law Director John Spon and Mansfield Police Chief Ken Coontz on Thursday.
All were in agreement that they’d like to partner together to help ensure the safety of the citizens of Mansfield and Richland County.
“The biggest thing that we want to do, and I can't emphasize this enough … is we have to try and protect our citizens, children in the city, as well as the county, and we know that in order to do that we have to share in a partnership and share in the assistance of that,” Theaker said.
The mayor presented the commissioners with a contract proposal that recommends the hiring of a 40-hour workweek individual to patrol Mansfield. See all suggestions below.
- The county shall hire an individual to work 40 hours a week to patrol the City of Mansfield.
- The county shall provide backup as needed.
- The county shall quarantine dangerous and/or vicious dogs at the pound until proper disposal can be determined.
- The county shall provide 24-7, 365 coverage for dog control.
- The county shall enforce the city’s animal ordinances as they are currently written and any applicable state laws.
- The county shall respond to police calls as quick as possible or in a timely manner.
- The county shall provide at its sole cost and expense any and all equipment, uniforms, facilities, vehicles, supplies and material which may be necessary for this contract.
- The county shall not be required to make a pro rata or other distribution to the city, nor to account to the city in any manner as pertains to the collection of assessment of costs, fees, fines or sales for which provisions is made.
- The county shall maintain records as to the appropriate method of enforcement for complaints within the city and furnish to the city said records upon a reasonable request.
- This contract shall automatically renew for each new calendar year until notice of termination is given in writing to the county or the city 60 days prior to termination.
- The county shall be entitled to and receive a 3 percent annual increase after the initial year of the contract.
- The county shall patrol the city and seize and impound dogs that appear aggressive in nature running at large or dogs not wearing a valid registration tag as mandated by the Ohio Revised Code.
“The intent of today’s meeting was to express to the three of you the need for some type of a contract,” Theaker said.
The hope is to get a contact in place, he said.
“We (the city) would like to help offset some of the cost for that,” the mayor said.
The city’s offer, as noted in the proposal, states, “Given the city’s current financial situation and the expedient need to provide a safe environment for the children and citizens of Mansfield, we are willing to take a proposed total contracted price of $80,000 to council for their final approval and acceptance.”
Commissioner Marilyn John expressed concern about the proposed contract price and referenced the city’s recent five-year financial forecast, which predicts a negative balance by the end of 2020.
The city of Mansfield's five-year financial forecast for years 2019-2023 predicts a negative balance by the end of 2020.
“Before I even put this figure in here I contacted (Finance) Director (Linn) Steward and we had a discussion about that and there is $80,000 that can be allocated to this,” Theaker said.
John was also concerned about unemployment costs if the contract were to be terminated.
“We’re (the county) going to be stuck with months of unemployment if we have to lay an individual off that we’ve hired, based on this contract,” she said. “Those are certainly concerns that I will want addressed.”
Theaker was open to negotiating, noting that this is just a starting point.
“To me, this is the initial discussion that I’m hoping will flourish and be able to come into an agreement that we can partner with you guys,” he said.
Spon, who has long advocated for the position of a dedicated animal control officer in the City of Mansfield, said he’s ultimately concerned about the safety of the citizens.
“I don't care how the job gets done,” Spon said. “My dedication is to increase the protection for children and also to protect animals, both. So I don't care if it's through a contract with the county … I’m, as an elected law director, required to enforce the law. And until I see the law being enforced, I've gotta do something.”
“We are here, without any expectation, but to respectfully request consideration for a contract with the county which would effectively enforce the law.”
He said in the last three months there have been eight or nine serious dog attacks in the city.
“The overall issue of animal control is both a law enforcement issue and a public health issue,” he said.
One of the problems the citizens of Mansfield face, Spon said, is they “don't even have a phone number that they can call within the city for immediate response. If there's a call to the county warden’s office, they might be involved in trying to catch a vicious dog at the other end of the county, so by the time they would be able to get back to the city, the dog is gone.”
Coontz said while the MPD does not spend time proactively looking for stray dogs -- as the department responds to approximately 38,000 calls year with a “skeleton crew" -- it always responds to calls from citizens.
“If a citizen calls, we’ll show up, no matter what the situation is, so all of our encounters where unfortunately we’ve had to take reports were people have been attacked or where an officer unfortunately ended up shooting the animal — all of those were reactive calls to the police department,” he said.
Mansfield and Richland County previously entered into a $30,000-contract in 1999. The contract was revised in 2001 and 2004 and later terminated in 2009 because of Mansfield's financial situation at the time.
Both sixth ward councilwoman Garnetta Pender and third ward councilman Jon Van Harligen, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said they’re in favor of a united force between the city and county to handle the issue of animal control.
“We work better together than separate,” Pender said. “If we could come up with a contract that is pleasing to everybody where the county dog warden is in a position to handle animal control in the city, maybe hiring another person, whatever the solution is, I’m for it.”
Van Harlingen said he’s in “full support of what we’re doing here today.”
“As a concern for our citizens, we should do what we can to assist the county. I seriously believe we're heading in the right direction here.”
Commissioner Darrell Banks agreed the proposal is a good place to start, but questions still remain that will need to be looked into such as personnel, benefits, training, housing of the dogs, liability, etc.
The meeting concluded on a positive note with both parties looking forward to partnering together.