City animal control cut to part-time due to budget issues

By 
Mikaela Koski
Thursday, July 19, 2018
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SCN photo by Mikaela Koski
          
 Columbus Animal Control Officer Christine Deacon with a little girl who donated dog food and toys for the animal shelter earlier this year.

About a year ago, the Columbus animal control position (ACO) was potentially on the chopping block for budgetary purposes.

Last Monday, the Columbus City Council voted to modify the ACO position from a full-time to a part-time job for a similar reason.

City Clerk Kisha Miller explained that the main reasoning behind the change is budgetary concerns for the upcoming fiscal year. For example, the budget needed for the now fully-staffed Columbus Police Department is going to be higher than last fiscal year.

Miller said it is important to be fiscally efficient and responsible, and the animal control position is one part of the city’s budget that could be reduced. By moving the ACO to part-time, the city will save approximately $25,000 annually.

Miller also noted the position does not currently have enough duties to be considered full-time, so the city has been giving the ACO additional work load items to keep busy. Winter months are particularly slow for the animal control position, according to Police Chief Jacob Ward.

With a fully staffed police department that will have officers on duty 24 hours a day, Ward was confident his officers could handle any animal control calls that come in during hours the animal control officer is not on duty.

In her written report, Miller explained that, “This is a difficult decision, however, it is important to note that it is not personal, it is a view of work load and time necessary with the budget allowance.”

The transition to part-time will take place on Oct. 2. The decision was made at this week’s meeting in order to give ACO Christine Deacon advanced notice of the change and to allow the city to go forward with the budgeting process.

Deacon will move to a 24-hour per week schedule from the current 40-hour per week schedule. In keeping with the benefit package held by the other part-time city employee, she will be offered employee-only benefits that include vision and dental.

At Monday’s meeting, Alderman Jon Brown mentioned that, “Even at half time, (animal control) is a welcomed service to the community.”

The motion to move forward with adjusting the animal control position to part-time was approved by aldermen Dannen Johannes, Terry Nystul, Jon Brown, and Bob Fitzgerald. Council member Paul Edwards voted against the motion, and Patty Sundberg was not present.

BACKGROUND

In April 2017, Ward proposed cutting the ACO position in order to put the money in the budget needed to maintain an ACO toward hiring a new patrol officer. At the time, the additional officer would have given Columbus 24/7 police coverage.

He emphasized the proposal was not based on Deacon’s performance, but rather it was a budgetary move.

Deacon attended the April 17 city council meeting and noted all of the duties the ACO does in addition to animal control calls, including code enforcement, parking enforcement, and acting as the elementary school crossing guard.

At the May 15 city council meeting, the council unanimously voted to keep the city’s ACO.

A working session took place before the meeting, and Patty Sundberg noted that there was community support for keeping the ACO. Each member of the council also voiced support for keeping the position.

At that time, the council did discuss potentially updating the job description and revisiting the ACO’s schedule in the future.

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