published Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Loose livestock stress Chattooga County budget

  • photo
    Jason Winters is the Summerville, Ga., Chattooga County commissioner.
    Photo by Allison Kwesell

ANIMAL COMPLAINTS

Animal complaints made to Chattooga County 911 in 2011:

* Complaints of dogs -- 816

* Complaints of livestock and deer -- 506

Source: 911 records

Last year, Chattooga County Animal Control officers received more than 500 complaints of cows, horses, goats and other animals wandering from fenced areas and pens and blocking roadways -- a number that surprised officials.

"That sounds high," said Jason Winters, the county's sole commissioner.

At the end of the budget year, the county's animal control expenses had reached $151,000, while the county had budgeted only $130,000, Winters said. But he said the budget doesn't reflect a $12,000 grant the county was awarded and other changes that will be factored into the final figures.

When fiscal records are complete, Winters said, he hopes the county comes out even.

Chattooga Animal Control Enforcement Officer Aubrey Smith said corralling runaway livestock accounts for more than one-third of their complaints.

Officials in other counties say the problem is common in rural communities.

"We get a lot of calls like that," said Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett from Marion County, Tenn. "Probably two or three a week."

In Walker County, Ga., animal control officers have a fenced-in shelter to house unclaimed livestock and neglected animals that are picked up, Emergency Services Director David Ashburn said.

The first concern is getting the livestock out of roads because it's dangerous for passing vehicles, officials said.

"It's a liability to the public," Ashburn said.

In Chattooga, Smith said sheriff's deputies often are responsible for answering the calls about runaway livestock, but animal control workers take the responsibility of finding the livestock owners.

If an owner continually is negligent and his animals escape, animal control officers can cite him, Smith said. But they try to give owners time to fix their fences or pens, he said.

"We try to take into consideration that we're a rural community," Smith said.

Staff writer Ben Benton contributed to this story.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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