Carrabelle says no to animal control surcharge

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Carrabelle commissioners are not keen on paying double for animal control in their city.

In an emphatic vote, agreed to all but Commissioner Tony Millender, the commission voted Thursday 3-1 to reject an attempt by the county to impose a fee on having animal control address issues within the city limits.

“I motion to tell the county to go to h*ll,” said Commissioner Frank Mathis, his motion seconded by Cal Allen.

Mayor Brenda La Paz outlined the steps that went in to the county’s most recent budget request, which came in an Oct. 30 communication to City Administrator Courtney Dempsey from County Coordinator Michael Morón.

La Paz said the request stemmed from county actions taken in early summer 2019 when complaints of dogs running loose on St. George island prompted the county to crack down and to strictly enforce the existing animal ordinance.

“There was a dog bite incident in Apalachicola and Carrabelle and the county thought they needed additional animal control on weekends,” she said. “So they reached out to fund part-time animal control on weekends.”

La Paz said the level of service did not include ongoing patrolling by animal control, with services managed on a complaint-call basis, and requiring police officers to go to the scene first to see if additional help was needed.

The service called for a $3,500 special fee assessment through 2019-20, and Carrabelle last year accepted the proposal “until such time as we see it differently.”

And now the city is seeing things differently.

“We have learned there were 18 animal control calls to Carrabelle in the first 11 months of 2019, all answered by city cops, and there were 27 in the first 11 months of 2020, also all answered by city police officers,” said La Paz.

She said the county is now asking for $7,500 annually, up from the original $7,000 request. This, stressed the mayor, is on top of close to $9,700 in ad valorem property taxes from Carrabelle residents that go towards funding the county department.

“This is a 77.35 percent increase on top of what city property owners pay,” La Paz said. “It now includes that a city cop will answer it first, and call for animal control, but now the cop must remain on the scene until animal control’s duty is completed.”

She noted that the state does not mandate the county have animal control services, and that if it does not, then the sheriff’s office assumes those duties.

“Now the county has threatened to cease (providing the service in Carrabelle) if we do not pay the fee,” La Paz said. “So, the property owners in essence would be paying close to double compared to what property owners pay outside the city limits.”

She argued that the county should increase its millage accordingly to boost animal control, rather than pinpointing (city) property owners in a roundabout way.

“This would be collected by the tax collector and not collected by invoicing the city directly,” La Paz said. “Citizens are very concerned we would have the potential of a domino effect. Which county-provided services will they threaten next? I believe we are setting city residents up for a threat to discontinue (other services).

“I understand that the county requires additional funding, but I believe the county commission should take an appropriate and transparent approach by a minute percent to fund an animal control department that can adequately meet demands countywide,” said the mayor.

Millender said he believed that a hasty move could lead to further problems.

“My question is if we don’t continue with animal control with the county what are we going to do?” he said.

“Our police have to be there from beginning to end, let them take care of it,” said Mathis.

“Will they house the animals?” asked Millender.

City Attorney Dan Hartman suggested problems could develop.

“If they dig in their heels, as it appears they are doing, that’s when do you hold their feet to the fire?” he asked. “Litigation is always a drain.”

Millender shared his concern. “Are we getting in a position that’s actually going to cost our taxpaying citizens of Carrabelle more money than working with the county?” he asked. “I’d rather see us wait and research. What position are we going to get ourselves into? I don’t want to move too fast and get us in a bind.”

Hartman said “reaching out to those county commissioners is a must. I would exhaust that first.”

Millender said local residents should weigh in as well.

“Our citizens that are communicating with us that they have concerns about paying fees, they need to be contacting those same commissioners and having this same discussion with them,” he said. “We’re not in this alone, the city of Apalachicola is under same concern we’re under. What are we going to do if we lose; can we afford to put that cost for us to do it on our taxpayers?”

The city of Apalachicola agreed to pay the fee during their summer budget discussions.

This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Carrabelle says no to animal control surcharge

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