Retirement may renew animal control debate

Board recognizes volunteers for renovating animal shelter.

By EVAN YOUNG

The retirement of Crestwood’s longtime animal control officer may resurrect the debate over whether the city should continue to fund the position.

Suzie Sutton, Crestwood’s animal control officer since 1998, plans to retire at the end of March. The city posted the job opening last month, offering a starting salary of $33,569. Applications were due last Friday.

But Sutton’s retirement has caused some residents to once again raise the issue that split the Board of Aldermen in half nearly a year ago — whether the city should obtain animal control through St. Louis County.

The board deadlocked 4-4 last April on a motion by Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild to discontinue the more than 30-year-old program and replace it with the county’s services.

Mayor Roy Robinson cast a tie-breaking no vote to defeat Duchild’s motion.

The vote was identical to one taken during a work session in November 2009, when Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel motioned to remove the animal control officer position from the 2010 city budget.

After breaking a 4-4 tie to defeat the motion, Robinson formed an ad hoc committee to research both Crestwood and the county’s animal control programs and report their findings to the board.

City officials recommended the elimination of Crestwood’s animal control program in February 2009 as part of a five-year plan to reduce annual expenses.

The city instead could use the county’s service at no additional cost, which is what most nearby municipalities already do, officials have said.

Those who favor using the county’s animal control service see the local program as a duplication and contend the board should follow through with the proposed cost-cutting measure.

And some have questioned why the city has retained the animal control officer position while eliminating police officer and firefighter positions through attrition and cutting other services.

“I hope the board uses the animal control officer’s retirement as an opportunity to revisit this issue and determine whether to keep and properly fund the animal control program,” Duchild’s wife, Martha, told the board at its regular meeting last week. “It’s a tough decision, but I think it’s one that needs to be made. And it’s a decision that will be remembered the next time the city needs to go to the voters for a tax increase.”

The board last week honored volunteers and businesses that donated time and materials toward the renovation of the Whitecliff Park animal shelter last year, an effort organized by the local, not-for-profit organization Friends of Animal Control and Rescue.

They and other supporters of the local animal control program contend the county’s services are not as comprehensive as those currently offered by Crestwood, such as wildlife trapping.

Robinson said last week the cost of doing away with local animal control would be greater than that of keeping it going.

“If we dissolve that, we’re going to have more problems in the community than the cost that we absorb now …,” Robinson said, contending the current cost is “so small” that removing it wouldn’t significantly impact the budget. “And I don’t agree with all the statements that have been made about the county providing the same service. They don’t, and you can’t get them to come because they’re like us; they’re shorthanded, and they do not come out when you call them. So they don’t provide anything for us …”