By Michael Howell
ANIMAL CONTROL ORDINANCE
The county’s Animal Control Ordinance is headed for major revisions following the elimination of the Animal Control Officer from the county budget, the resignation of the Animal Control Board and the subsequent collapse of the county’s dog licensing program.
The ordinance came into question when the Commissioners’ Administrative Assistant brought up the question of how to handle incoming monies for dog licenses when there was no one issuing the licenses and no enforcement officer. Dog licensing funds were being used to fund the position of Animal Control Officer.
Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher said that without an animal control officer and no way to enforce the dog licensing program the ordinance establishing the position and the licensing program should probably be rescinded. He noted that the Humane Society had been receiving county funds for years for handling problem animals for the county but that funding is now also in question. The county had requested an audit of the organization’s funds as a condition of continued funding but no audit has been forthcoming.
“If they can’t afford several thousand dollars for an audit in order to receive over $30,000 in funding, then there is a question,” said Kanenwisher.
Commissioner Suzy Foss agreed that asking for an audit was a reasonable request.
Former Animal Control Board Member Peg Platt said that since the resignation of the Humane Society manager, there was no consensus on that board of how to proceed. But she cautioned against simply rescinding the ordinance because it also contained the regulations concerning dogs at large and rabies control.
Sheriff Chris Hoffman told the board that the Animal Control Ordinance was a long time in the making but that from the beginning it was acknowledged that the Sheriff’s Office did not have the manpower or the budget to take on enforcement of the dog licensing program. He said without an animal control officer that his office would still have to deal with vicious dogs and could use any money left in the animal control fund as well as the vehicle and associated equipment that was dedicated to Animal Control. He noted that a Hamilton Police officer and a Sheriff’s Deputy were recently bitten while trying to remove a dog from a vehicle following the arrest of the driver on DUI charges. He said that he could understand the problem with the dog licensing program but that the ordinance was still necessary to address the problem of dog bites.
Platt noted that the Humane Society had received reports of over 30 dog bites in the last six months. She offered to help review the ordinance and remove all the material related to the licensing program but leave the essential for enforcement of the dog at large provisions and the rabies quarantine provisions following a dog bite.
The Commissioners came to a consensus that the Sheriff could take back the vehicle and apparatus which had been given to the animal control officer and make use of any funds left in the Animal Control fund, estimated at about $22,000. In the meantime the dysfunctional dog licensing program would not be enforced and the ordinance would be revised as soon as possible.
After discovering some discrepancies between the state regulations and the county’s sign ordinance, Planning Department Manager Terry Nelson came to the county commissioners for direction on possibly amending the ordinance.
Nelson said that the county’s ordinance contained a blatant contradiction with state law concerning the kind of government powers the county has and that this needs to be corrected. He said there are also discrepancies between the state regulations and the county’s that need to be reconciled. For instance, the state allows signs of up to 672 square feet along Highway 93 while the county only allows up to 32 square feet.
“That’s about the size of a sheet of plywood,” said Nelson.
He said there were also discrepancies between state law governing the placement of political signs and the county’s regulations over timing issues as well. He said state law allows the placement of political signs 90 days prior to the election and requires they be taken down within 30 days following the election. He said the county regulations don’t address placement of the signs but does require that they be removed within 10 days following the election.
The county also has a rule requiring that signs along the highway be set back 100 feet from the right of way, while the state has no such restrictions. He said there is also a discrepancy between the state and local rules regarding the minimum distance between signs.
Nelson said that his office will be working with the County Attorney’s Office to determine what the reasoning is behind the discrepancies and make recommendations for changes.
Public comment on the issue may be directed to the Ravalli County Planning Office at 375-6530.
FLOOD PLAIN REGULATIONS
According to Planning Department Manager Terry Nelson, the County’s Flood Plain Administrator has been working with the County Attorney’s Office to codify the county’s flood plain regulations and has made recommendations concerning proposed changes.
Nelson said a lot of changes were being considered but one major change that is coming into view concerns the use of sealed components in sanitary systems in the flood plain.
“Right now,” said Nelson, “the state, FEMA and the local environmental health department all allow certain new types of sealed waste treatment systems for use in high ground water areas. But the county regulations right now won’t even allow a sealed pipe to pass across the flood plain.”
Nelson said that work on the regulations was proceeding and that some public meetings on the issue were planned for January and would be advertised.