County’s animal control not a ‘duplication’ of Crestwood’s, panel told

Panel chair objects to ‘tone’ of comment by ex-alderman

By EVAN YOUNG

The county’s animal-control services are not a “duplication” of Crestwood’s, aldermen weighing options for the city’s program were told last week.

Friends of Animal Control and Rescue representative Mary Wheat stressed to the city’s Animal Control Study Committee Jan. 19 that the county’s animal-control services are not a “duplication” of Crestwood’s, as some who favor shuttering the local program have argued.

Friends of Animal Control and Rescue is an independent group of residents that supports Crestwood’s animal-control program.

The aldermanic committee studying the city’s animal control is comprised of Ward 1 Aldermen Mimi Duncan and Darryl Wallach, Ward 2 Alderman Jeff Schlink and Ward 4 Alderman Deborah Beezley.

“A service being offered by St. Louis County is not a mandate for us to use it,” Wheat told the committee.

For example, Wheat said, while Crestwood residents’ tax dollars help fund St. Louis County law enforcement, the city has its own Police Department.

“Why?” she said. “Because they’re better for us.”

Wheat said eliminating Crestwood animal control would not automatically solve any financial problems, and utilizing the county’s services would “make us just like everybody else.”

She said local animal control is a “feather in our caps” and the program should be viewed as a selling point for Crestwood — “not a burden.”

But not all of the roughly dozen attendees at last week’s meeting agreed.

“You’re analyzing this thing to death,” former Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder told the committee.

Nieder asked City Administrator Jim Eckrich whether, as Crestwood animal control officer, Suzie Sutton had the authority to arrest, issue court summons or enter residences.

Eckrich said that while Sutton can write citations for animal-control code violations, only police officers can arrest and serve and execute warrants.

Nieder questioned, therefore, whether the city’s animal-control program was merely an “adoption service.”

His remark drew an objection from Duncan, the committee’s chair.

“Your tone does not sit well with me,” she said, adding Nieder should make his comments in a “professional” — not “accusatory” — manner.

Nieder replied, “My point is that we still have to rely and pay St. Louis County for many of the things you assume our animal control officer does.”

The Animal Control Study Committee tentatively plans to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Crestwood Government Center, 1 Detjen Drive.

The group will report its findings to the Board of Aldermen, which ultimately will decide whether Crestwood should retain or shutter local animal-control services.

City officials have recommended the latter option as part of a plan to reduce annual expenses. But when the Board of Aldermen voted in November on a motion to eliminate the animal control officer position from the 2010 city budget, it deadlocked 4-4.

Mayor Roy Robinson broke the tie to defeat Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel’s motion. He subsequently appointed Duncan and Beezley — who voted to keep the position — and Wallach and Schlink — who wanted it cut — to the committee.

The group has until the end of March to provide their colleagues with a recommendation.

City officials have said St. Louis County can provide Crestwood with animal control at no additional cost to the city. But supporters contend the county would not provide nearly as many animal-control services to residents as Sutton now does.

As part of its fact-finding process, the committee will compile a matrix that compares various aspects of the city and county animal control programs, such as number of animal-related calls and response time. Aldermen also want to learn more about Crestwood’s program, including its revenue — from such sources as pet tags and fines — and its expenses — such as personnel, animal shelter maintenance and vehicle costs.

The committee also wants to book a series of speakers to give five- to 10-minute presentations at its next meeting. Among them: Sutton, a representative from county animal control and a local veterinarian.