Seven months after the Grand Traverse County Commissioners eliminated the funding for the Animal Control Division, taking the Division out of the Health Department and laying off the Animal Control Officers, the Animal Control Division is now being returned to the Health Department again.
In a meeting with Christine Maxbauer and Alisa Kroupa recently, Maxbauer had stated that they were still looking into forcing Sheriff Bensley to take over the Division but that putting the Division back in the Health Department was another option. The Sheriff has repeatedly refused to take on the additional services from the Animal Control Division citing that he doesn’t want to run a department that is underfunded and understaffed. When comparing Grand Traverse County area to other surrounding counties, he said that Grand Traverse County should probably have three to four Animal Control Officers to run it right.
In a memo from Deputy Administrator Jennifer DeHaan to Health Officer/Director, Wendy Trute, on June 10th, DeHaan writes, “Please work with Human Resources to facilitate staffing for animal control services. The funding available will be the revenues derived from the dog-license fees. Please determine the level/type of service that can be funded from the existing revenues. If additional revenues are necessary, please work with the Treasurer’s Office to provide a recommendation to the Board to increase the dog-license fees. In addition, please also conduct an analysis of the services that are delivered which would include the calls for services, incidents responded to, types of incidents, time of calls for service and additional details such that this service can continue to be tracked and evaluated.” The memo was also sent along to Administrator Tom Menzel, Prosecuting Attorney Chris Forsyth, Sheriff Tom Bensley, Undersheriff Nate Alger, Treasurer Heidi Scheppe, the Board of Commissioners and Human Resources.
For more than four months, Jennifer Isbell of Pet Friends Magazine, has been working on an Animal Control Proposal to get the Animal Control Division re-instated by means of a millage. Dozens of people were interviewed and multiple meetings took place. The proposal was a result of learning what kind of Animal Control Division the Community wanted and what would be needed to run that kind of Division. The finished proposal here included: putting the Division in the Sheriff’s Office (overwhelming support of this); having an animal abuse tipline; hiring three Animal Control Officers to offer additional coverage including nights and weekends; forming an Animal Control Committee of citizens and animal welfare professionals; expanded veterinary services for medical needs of stray dogs; ongoing education/conferences for ACO’s, community Pet Fair for discounted vaccinations and more. The millage was going to be one of the lowest Grand Traverse Millages on record which would have only cost $2.30 a year for a person who had a house valued at $100,00, with a taxable value of $50,000.
Aspects of the proposal were relayed to Commissioners Maxbauer and Kroupa but the millage was not supported because of the current financial environment in the County. Kroupa said “additional services” couldn’t be offered in an Animal Control Division when other county departments were being cut.
The entire proposal and budget was given to the Sheriff for consideration; however, late in the process, Commissioner Kroupa pointed out the difficulty of moving forward with the millage due to the Headlee Amendment. This Amendment is a state law that says that taxpayers cannot be over-taxed above a certain amount (property taxes). Since Grand Traverse County is already at their limit, it was unlikely that the Commissioners would accept the Animal Control millage proposal so that it could be moved on to the Clerk to get on the ballot in November. It would also be more difficult to explain the millage to the public since the wording would contain extra language to let voters know they would be over-riding a state law to give themselves additional taxes. The proposal remains with the Sheriff for reference if the County ever moves forward with a fully-funded Animal Control Division or if a future millage is ever sought.
In a past meeting with Commissioner Maxbauer, she expressed a willingness to form an Animal Control Advisory Committee. She is still willing do that if Health OfficerDirector Wendy Trute agrees. If you would like to support that idea, you can email Maxbauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or Wendy Trute at email@example.com.