City Council debates pet registration proposal
by Emily McLain

Home staff writer

The Sylacauga City Council considered the benefits of a citywide pet registry during a work session Monday night.

The proposed registry, suggested by Animal Control Officer Michelle Taylor as part of an update to the city’s animal control ordinance, would require owners to register their pet and state that the animal has current rabies vaccination. An annual registry fee was recommended at $10 if the animal is spayed or neutered and up to $50 otherwise.

Councilman Tom Roberts said he has been bombarded with comments about the proposal since it was discussed at their last work session, and other councilmen said they had been as well. Roberts said some citizens feel they would be punished for being responsible animal owners, but he has “been hit overwhelmingly with people who want us to do something about the dogs on the loose.”

He explained that the purpose of registration is “part of the education process of keeping your dog, or cat, put away so they can’t go out and make more. At the same time, it helps us identify the pet owners and let them know they’re going to be responsible.”

Council President Rocky Lucas said he does not support an annual fee, because it sounds like a tax and “would lead to an overwhelming stray population in the beginning, and I don’t think we’re ready to tackle that.”

Councilman Joe Hogan does not support the idea of a registry altogether. “I think we’d be chasing our tail all the time, trying to keep up with all these animals, and I think the (registration) is ridiculous,” he said. “The education comes when we hit your wallet for not doing what (the ordinance) says.” He continued, “I know I’m in government, but I think that’s too much government. My dog has a tag and it’s got its shots; it’s on my property; it’s under control.”

Hogan said dogs could be identified by their rabies tags. However, Roberts said without the registry, any update to the ordinance is pointless because pet owners frequently deny ownership when their animal violates the ordinance, and then there is no way to penalize them.

“Without registration, you’re basically doing what we’re doing right now,” he said.

Police Chief Chris Carden said another thing to consider is the additional workload placed on animal control if the registry is approved.

“Right now, we operate one animal control person,” Carden said. “Daily, she answers a little more than twice the calls as patrol, so the more we put on her, you’re going to have to think about adding an additional person. Ultimately, I’m the one who has to be held accountable to that, I understand, but if you want me to be successful, I’ve got to have a charging instrument that’s going to have some teeth in it and the resources to address what the ordinance says we’re going to do.”

Other proposed changes to the ordinance include increased fees for violations and more in-depth definitions and descriptions. Lucas said he believes enforcement of the law is the answer to the city’s problems with stray animals. He suggested councilmen speak with Taylor again before making a decision.

Also at Monday’s work session, the council:

• Interviewed three applicants for a vacancy on the Airport Board: David Morrill, Robert Gaston and Jack Mitchell Jr.

• Agreed to look into a landlock paving system to repave the roads in Marble City Cemetery. The project is estimated to cost $10,000 to $17,000, about half the price of asphalt paving, with costs possibly to be split between the city and the Perpetual Care Committee.

• Reviewed June financials. Expenses were on-budget for the month, and a $52,000 revenue shortfall was supplemented with surplus funds. About $550,000 remains in the surplus account.

• Discussed rewording of the annual appropriation letter sent to area organizations as the city prepares a budget for the fiscal year starting in October. Councilmen plan to enforce that if a group does not submit the requested information, it will not be considered for funding. “If you go to the bank to borrow money, you jump through all the hoops don’t you? Because you want the money,” Hogan said. “It’s no different here.”

• Heard Mayor Doug Murphree say the city should hear from the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program this week as to whether it was granted any of the $6.8 million in road improvement grants for which it applied.

• Heard City Clerk Patricia Carden announce the city must hold a public meeting to discuss the transfer of federal grant money received to relocate a downtown train switch. The council will have to readopt the ordinances it previously adopted regarding the $1.5 million grant. The funds are intended to be transferred to Eastern Alabama Railway, which is currently bidding out the project.

The council meets tonight at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

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