Councilwoman seeks to divert dog study $10K
Randy Metcalf/The Explorer, Oro Valley Town Councilwoman Paula Abbott, left, discusses her reasons for accepting Town Manager David Andrews' resignation on Sept. 23, while Councilwoman Salette Latas looks on. The contentious debate followed another heated discussion the same night about a possible takeover of animal licensing and control duties from Pima County.

When the U.S. Census wraps up next year, Oro Valley could have a population of nearly 45,000 people. If that proves true, the town also could have more than 11,000 dogs and 12,000 cats, based on formulas set by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

That's one reason some members of the Oro Valley Town Council have directed town staffers to examine a possible move into the animal licensing and control business.

Earlier this year, the council set aside $10,000 to hire an outside group to study a town takeover of animal licensing and control from Pima County, which currently provides those services throughout the county.

Councilwoman Paula Abbott, however, has asked that the town take that money and give it to an outside agency, thereby killing the study and any future talks of local animal control and licensing.

"I just thought that it's the best use of the money right now," Abbott said.

An item on the Wednesday, Oct. 7 council agenda requested by Abbott proposes to give the money to an animal rescue group or no-kill shelter in the area. No candidates for that money have been publicly identified.

The move illustrates the growing divisions on town council, especially in the aftermath of a contentious meeting Sept. 23 when former Town Manager David Andrews was pressured to resign.

"I don't know why she's doing it," said Councilman Barry Gillaspie. "It almost looks vindictive."

Andrews quit on Sept. 23, with Abbott joined by Mayor Paul Loomis and councilmen K.C. Carter and Al Kunisch in approving his resignation despite protests from some on the council and numerous residents.

The opposing members — Gillaspie, Bill Garner and Salette Latas — publicly accused the other members of collusion in Andrews' ouster.

Garner questioned the appearance of turning the issue of animal licensing into a political battle.

"I think Paula is looking at this issue as a political posture," Garner said.

Abbott's attempt to kill the animal licensing study would appear aimed squarely at Latas, who pushed for the study funds. Asked what was behind the move, Latas wouldn't speculate.

"I have no idea what that item's about," Latas said.

In a June meeting, Latas led the discussion about a transition to local control of animals. In addition to cost estimates, her presentation included a photo of a county vehicle dumping euthanized animals in a landfill, and a local news broadcast about a dog mistakenly put down by county workers before its owners had the opportunity to bring it home.

Latas wants to break with the county and have the town move toward a no-kill system.

At a meeting last month, the council again discussed animal licensing, this time with the help of Pima Animal Care Center Director Kim Janes, who shared some of the local costs associated with animal licensing and control.

Abbott questioned Latas about the proposed study at last month's meeting, querying the councilwoman about how much animal control would cost residents. Latas replied the purpose of the study would be to answer those sorts of questions.

According to preliminary town estimates, animal shelter operations would cost about $230,000 per year.

Oro Valley pet owners paid slightly more than $30,000 in licensing fees to the county in fiscal 2008. As few as 25 percent of animal owners throughout the county had their pets licensed.

Abbott also brought up the issue of using local police for animal enforcement.

"To use our police is just wrong," Abbott said.

Information provided in the materials for that meeting showed that in at least 13 instances, local police have caught and transported lost dogs to Pima Animal Care Center, or reunited pets with their families.

"No matter how you slice it, we're in the dog-catching business already," Garner later told The Explorer.

Pima Animal Care Center figures show that its workers made 327 enforcement calls in Oro Valley in fiscal 2009. The previous year, the county responded to 183 calls in the town.

In comments to The Explorer, Abbott indicated that a break from the county would prove difficult.

"Regardless of what we do, we'll still need their services," Abbott said.

Abbott offered no explanation why she sought to quash a study and give the $10,000 to an outside group, a proposal that surprised some council members.

"I didn't hear one of us opposed to a feasibility study," Gillaspie said. He also questioned the basis of giving away money to an outside agency halfway through a budget cycle.

"I'm not going to be for using our money and giving it to an outside agency," Gillaspie said. "She's just basically jumping over the process."

The councilman noted he supports the missions of some of the animal groups that could receive town support, and that he owns rescued dogs.

Oro Valley has revised its funding mechanism for community organizations, with interviews preceding any awards of money. The change was made in September 2007. In the current fiscal year, the council agreed to fund 16 groups, giving more than $277,000.

"This is simply another case where we have another council member not following the rules," Garner said. "She should know that you can't give money to a 501(c)(3) out of turn."

Garner also pointed out that no animal welfare groups applied for town support earlier this year.

The council meets Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 6 p.m. at town hall located at 11000 N. La Cañada Drive.

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