Robinson breaks 4-4 board deadlock; Crestwood will continue to provide animal control

City officials recommended eliminating program in 2009.

By EVAN YOUNG

Crestwood will continue to provide its own animal control as the Board of Aldermen last week deadlocked for the second time on a decision to relinquish the city’s 30-year-old program for St. Louis County’s service.

Aldermen tied 4-4 on a motion by Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild, seconded by Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach, to authorize the city attorney to “draft the required legislation to revise the Crestwood municipal code and take the necessary action to allow St. Louis County to provide its separate animal control services.”

Mayor Roy Robinson subsequently broke the tie to defeat Duchild’s motion.

Besides Duchild and Wallach, Ward 2 Alderman Jeff Schlink and Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel were in favor of the motion. Ward 1 Alderman Mimi Duncan, Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel and Ward 4 Aldermen Deborah Beezley and John Foote were opposed.

“Then it’s my decision,” Robinson said following the roll-call vote, “and I say ‘no.'”

Last week’s vote was identical to one taken during a work session in November, when Miguel motioned to remove the animal control officer position from the 2010 city budget.

After breaking the 4-4 tie to defeat the motion, Robinson formed an ad hoc committee comprised of Duncan, Wallach, Schlink and Beezley 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 said.

However, proponents of local animal control contended the county’s services are not as comprehensive as those currently offered by Crestwood Animal Control Officer Suzie Sutton.

The Animal Control Study Committee presented aldermen last month with a table outlining the two programs. Among its findings:

• The county operates a 7,700 square-foot animal shelter in Florissant and a 6,000 square-foot shelter in Ladue. Both will close next year as the county moves to a new, 25,000-square-foot facility in Olivette. Crestwood operates a 200-square-foot shelter in Whitecliff Park.

• Twelve animal control officers currently work for the county. Officers work three shifts — daytime, evening and overnight — with a maximum of six officers on duty during the day and evening shifts and three officers available overnight. That breaks down to roughly 87 square miles per officer with six on-duty and 174 square miles per officer for three. In Crestwood, Sutton is responsible for 3.6 square miles.

The city once employed two park rangers to assist the animal control officer, but those positions were eliminated in 2005.

Now, some 30 volunteers assist Sutton, cleaning the shelter and tending to animals.

• County animal control officers take calls in the evenings and on weekends. Crestwood police handle standard animal control issues after-hours, but Sutton remains on-call for emergencies.

• It can take 12 to 24 hours for county animal control officers to respond to the average call. Depending on the nature of the call, Sutton responds immediately.

• Calls to the county regarding wildlife are referred to the Missouri Department of Conservation, except for bite cases or if a wild animal is inside a residence.

In Crestwood, Sutton handles all wildlife calls.

As for costs, Sutton earned $51,238 in salary and benefits in 2009. The city also spent $3,332 on maintenance, fuel and insurance for the animal control vehicle, a 1998 Ford Explorer; $2,027 on the Whitecliff Park shelter; and $4,474 on veterinary services and various supplies — most of which are paid for by donations. In all, 2009 expenses were $61,071.

For 2010, the city has budgeted $14,000 for a new roof and siding at the Whitecliff Park shelter. A local 501(c)(3) not-for-profit group, Friends of Animal Control and Rescue, has said it hopes to raise enough money to fund half of the $7,000 roof project, along with other animal control expenses.

Next year, officials plan to set aside $30,000 to replace the animal control vehicle.

Duncan, who chaired the Animal Control Study Committee, told the Call that the county was unable to provide the committee with certain information because it was installing new data software.

However, some information, such as the ratio of county animal control officers to square mileage, “to me is very telling as to what level of response they can give and how they triage their calls,” she said.

She concluded that the county would not offer Crestwood residents the same level of service.

“At some point we have to maintain the character of our city, and cutting services is not always the answer,” Duncan said. “As painful as this budget process has been with the revenue stream that we have, I think we have to have some character of Crestwood stay the way it is. I think we are unique in having our own animal control officer, and I think it’s a good service.”

Besides animal control, Crestwood officials’ five-year plan to reduce annual expenditures also calls for eliminating three police and three firefighter positions through attrition. Four of those positions had been cut when the board approved the 2010 budget. Salaries for the remaining two — about $138,000 in all — make up the anticipated cash needed to balance the budget at the end of this year.

Duchild said the decision to retain local animal control while public safety positions are being eliminated was “illogical.”

“Even with these reductions, the city was still unable to balance its budget for 2010,” Duchild told the Call. “Considering the continued slowdown in sales-tax revenues, I am concerned  the 2011 budget may be even more difficult to balance than the 2010 budget.

“I’m afraid the board has saved ‘nice-to-have’ services at the expense of essential services like fire and police protection and maintaining our residential streets. The decision to reduce six safety positions while leaving the animal control budget intact is illogical, especially when the county already provides this service to all Crestwood residents.”

But many of those residents treat their pets like family members and benefit from having a shelter nearby when their animals are lost, Foote said, noting Crestwood also is prone to more wildlife issues because of its parks and other green space.

“I represent people on both sides of this question,” Foote said. “And what’s essential to me is the amount of money that is going to go into animal control versus the benefits our residents receive. You need to draw a line somewhere and I’d like to see us start holding the line and preserving our city and the services which we have managed to support for many, many years.”

“We can continue to take everything apart, and when we’re finished, what do we have left?” Foote added. “Animal control is a key part.”