The Town Board meets tonight (Tuesday, March 25) at 6 p.m. at Town Hall for its monthly work session, where commissioners will take a look at Davidson’s options for animal control and animal shelter services and review revenue projections and budget priorities for next year. They’ll also hear about a town staff proposal to eliminate the Town Messenger newsletter.
Town Board members will hear a presentation from Mark Balestra, director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Control, about how his agency might provide services to the town.
Davidson is currently without an animal control officer or a long-term shelter of its own. The former officer was fired last September in a much-publicized case involving the death of a cat he was transporting to the county-run animal shelter in Charlotte.
But the town’s needs run deeper than its current lack of a dedicated animal control officer. As the town grows, the number of animal calls does, too.
The town had been watching the development of a proposal for a joint animal shelter in Huntersville by the towns of Huntersville and Cornelius, but had made no commitment about joining the effort. Now, Cornelius is looking at building a shelter of its own, to replace a temporary fence and tarp shelter, and Davidson is considering whether to participate.
The question before the town board is how to fulfill the need for both animal control services and a shelter. In a memo to the board this month, Police Chief Jeanne Miller and Assistant Town Manager Dawn Blobaum outlined the estimated costs for several options:
- Contracting with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Control for all stray animal collection and shelter services. ($12,825 per year estimated cost)
- Contracting with Animal Control for both collection and shelter services, but also using Davidson police officers to collect and “triage” animals. ($8,100 per year.)
- Hiring a new animal control officer but contracting with Animal Control for shelter use. ($12,500 per year minimum, plus additional costs.)
- Using the proposed new Cornelius shelter and hiring a new animal control officer. Cost estimates for this option are uncertain. Funding would be needed for capital costs including construction, a vehicle and cages, as well as ongoing costs for fuel and training. About $47,000 of the estimated annual $75,000 operating budget could be paid for through animal license fees – though most animals in the towns are not currently licensed. The rest would have to come from the two towns’ budgets.
Many animal control calls in Davidson currently are for dead animals that need to be picked up or wild animals on the loose, such as raccoons, according to the memo.
The staff is proposing to assign the task of cleaning up dead animals to the public works department. For wild animals, the town could simply provide a referral to a private business such as Critter Control, or it could contract with such a business to provide the service. Town officials said the town currently cannot afford to train, license and equip its own staff member to handle wild animals.
VOLUNTEERS WANT A SOLUTION
A large group of volunteers currently staffs and takes care of the temporary animal shelter in Cornelius. And many animal advocates in the region – including some town board members in both Cornelius and Davidson — are eager to see the towns come up with a solution to the area’s animal control and shelter needs.
Volunteers say if the towns move forward on building a shelter, at least some of the initial costs could be covered through private donations.
How much should the town spend? According to the memo, the International City/County Management Association suggests spending $4 to $7 per capita for animal control operations. For Davidson, with an estimated population of 9,000, that would be $36,000 to $63,000 per year.
Town officials are studying whether to leap into providing all the needed services, but they say in North Carolina, animal control remains largely a county function. And residents’ tax dollars already pay for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Control Shelter, according to the memo.
Tonight’s session will give the board a chance to look at all the options. But no vote is scheduled. That would happen at a future Town Board meeting.
FOLDING THE NEWSLETTER
The board tonight also will continue its ongoing and public discussion of budget priorities for next year. The agenda calls for a review of staff budget priority rankings.
Town Manager Leamon Brice also will give the board a summary of revenue projections for the 2008-9 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Revenues are expected to include new revenues from growth around Exit 30, including increases in what the town gets from restaurants and hotels through the occupancy and prepared food taxes.
In memo to the board, Mr. Brice also outlined a proposal to stop printing and mailing the quarterly Town Messenger newsletter to all town residents. The town currently spends “at least $15,000” on printing.
Much of the newsletter, according to Mr. Brice, is devoted to listing Parks & Recreation Department programs. But Parks & Rec also uses other sources to publicize its activities.
Meanwhile, the town has been using the Web and email more in recent years, and it is preparing to unveil a new town website soon.
“We would like to discuss and propose we use the next two newsletters to promote informing citizens that the newsletter will no longer be printed and mailed to everyone in town and that it will be provided on the Web page,” Mr. Brice wrote in his memo to the board.
A new Parks & Recreation newsletter would be created, with publication three times a year. It would be available on the town website and promoted through email to citizens.
For citizens without Internet access or who do not use the web, the town would still print a limited number of copies of both the town newsletter and Parks & Rec program guide, and make them available at various sites.
“We believe this would produce a significant savings and be just as effective if managed properly,” Mr. Brice said.
He’ll ask the board for its opinion on the plan.