Grand Traverse Animal Control Funding in Sight

After a previous Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners and past Administrator Tom Menzel eliminated the Animal Control Division at the end of 2015 with no public input, 2018 brings with it new hope that animal control services will be restored to at least what the previous budget and staffing before the division was eliminated.

With Vicki Upppal in place as the new Administrator in addition to more recently elected pro-animal control commissioners on board, it looks likely that the next few weeks will bring decisions that will once again fully fund the Animal Control Division. With the urging of Commissioner Cheryl Gore Follette, an Animal Control Ad-Hoc Committee was formed in 2017 to look into the situation, utilizing opinions and resources from the county staff, the commissioners and the public. This has led to more communication between the county staff and commissioners regarding how to move forward in able to offer the animal control services that the county residents deserve.

In addition to the Ad-Hoc Committee’s work, a citizen-led marketing push to sell more dog licenses was also developed to better fund animal control services. 

Recent county staff resignations and other changes have opened up some money in the budget that could be utilized for the Animal Control Division funding. During the commissioners meeting on Wednesday, January 3rd, reinstating animal control services was discussed.

Commissioner Lathrop made a motion to increase the budget to previous 2015 levels but after a discussion with other commissioners, he withdrew the motion. Commissioners Wheelock and Gore Follette wanted to go ahead with the Animal Control Ad-Hoc Committee meeting on January 10th and get the public’s input on how to move forward before making a decision. They also had concerns about needing more funding than previously budgeted due to needing to replace the current trucks used by the Animal Control Officers. Commissioner Wheelock asked that the Ad-Hoc Committee come up with a structure and a budget so that they could vote on the issue soon.

In a recent Ticker article, Health Officer Wendy Hirschenberger asked for enough money for the program to operate in the right way for the community. She would like to increase the budget to just over $286,000 so that the county could have two full-time Animal Control Officers and a Supervisor.

Commissioner Gore Follette, who has been integral in reinstating Animal Control funding since she was elected thinks that animal control services should be funded through the county budget. She says, “I think animal control should be part of the general fund. Protection of animals, and the ability to respond to safety concerns between animals and humans, makes this an important public safety issue.” She’s been working for the past year trying to find a way to move the Animal Control Division into the Sheriff’s Office and has had several conversations with Sheriff Bensley about it. They’ve been gathering data concerning costs and looking at how other counties are operating their own Animal Control Departments. Gore Follette has also been involved in conversations with administration about freeing up funds from the current reorganization at the county in order to fully fund the Animal Control Division. She believes that there is a consensus among the current board members that this needs to be a priority. She adds, “we are charged with being fiscally responsible as well, which is why this process has taken time.”

Gore Follette is also strongly in favor of pursuing a new law enforcement center and jail facility which she thinks coincides fortuitously with the need to move the Animal Control Division to the Sheriff’s Office. She says, “What avenue we will pursue to accomplish this goal will be under discussion over the next few months: Should we bond? Should we pursue a time-limited millage? It seems clear to me that we can no longer fail to at regarding the improved law enforcement center/jail. Our area is expanding rapidly and sadly this has greatly increased our need for more jail capacity and other law enforcement services.”

Animal Control Deb Zerafa agrees that the Animal Control Division needs to be fully funded and fully staffed as soon as possible. She says, “at this time of the year, I am most concerned about animal cruelty, neglect and abuse, leaving animals without adequate shelter, food and water, vet care and exercise. She continued, “Human beings are the overseers of life and with that comes a huge responsibility to speak for the animal kingdom that do not have voices against cruelty and inhumane treatment heaven help us if we choose to ignore these abuses.”

Also during the Board meeting on the 3rd, the Commissioners agreed, with the support of the Administrator, to keep Animal Control Officer Deb Zerafa working full-time (37.5 hours) in the interim as requested by Health Officer Wendy Hirschenberger.

The Commissioners are asking for input on two main issues from Grand Traverse County residents. One is whether the public prefers funding the Animal Control Division with general fund money or a millage. The second issue to be decided is whether the division should be ran by the Health Department or the Sheriff’s Office.

YOUR input is needed. Please come to the Animal Control Ad-Hoc Committee meeting on Wednesday, January 10th at 5:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Governmental Center on 400 Boardman to tell them what your thoughts are. If you can’t make the meeting and you are a Grand Traverse County resident, please email the commissioners here by Tuesday, January 9th – or comment on this post and I will print your responses for the commissioners.

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