published Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Chattanooga animal ordinance nears last hurdle

Chattanooga City Hall
Chattanooga City Hall
Meghan Brown

PROPOSED FEES

• Breeder/kennel permit fees would change from $250 to a combined $300.

• Animal performance permit fees would go from $200 to a range of $100 to $300.

• Dogs in outdoor dining area permits would go from $50 to $100.

• Late fees for permit renewals would increase from $20 to $50.

• Animal dealer permit fees would remain unchanged -- $300.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

Council members are also expected to vote on:

• A resolution accepting $387,840 from Hamilton County from the 2013 real property back tax sale.

• Various resolutions related to public works projects.

What started as a debate about making Chattanooga fowl-friendly has been picked clean to a bare-bone discussion over how the city will deal with animal breeders, rescue shelters, animal performances and other issues.

All talk of chicken has been plucked, and council members today will decide whether to adopt a comprehensive animal control ordinance -- or send the nearly 30-page draft back to the drawing board.

Animal Control Board Chairman Michael Mallen is hoping for the first outcome.

When he and eight other residents joined the new animal board late last year, he said they just wanted to help the city's troubled fauna by approving or denying permits. No board members expected to be writing legislation for seven months, he said.

"I think that focus has become lost. Good debate is healthy, but at some point I think it's important to refocus -- and I think we're at that point," Mallen said.

The new ordinance would consolidate the city's animal codes into one section of the law, update some language and set fees for animal-related permits, Mallen said.

But Mallen and the board may not be out of the ordinance-writing business.

The draft ordinance cleared first reading last week on a 5-3 vote. But Chattanooga City Councilman Chip Henderson was absent; Carol Berz said she voted a hesitant "yes;" and two of the "nays" said Monday they haven't changed their minds.

Chris Anderson, who originally brought chickens to the table, voted no to the fowl-free ordinance last week and said Monday that won't change -- unless he gets some "specific financial questions" answered by McKamey Animal Center Executive Director Karen Walsh. The city contracts with McKamey for animal control.

"I'm not going to vote for a law that imposes fees on taxpayers when the vendor determines the fees," Anderson said.

All permitting fees go to the animal center, and Anderson argues it is improper that Walsh helped draft the ordinance.

Mallen said Monday the animal board has done only what it was asked since it was formed under a previous council and city administration.

"The process was ushered through by the staff members the City Council and the administration supplied to us," Mallen said.

Under the draft ordinance, some fees have increased.

Moses Freeman, who also voted against the first reading of the ordinance last week, said Monday he has concerns about a fee imposed on animal rescue shelters.

Under the new ordinance, there is no permit fee for animal rescue operations, but any pet that stays at a rescue shelter for longer than a year must be licensed as a pet through the city -- a $10 fee.

"Right now, I cannot support that ordinance in the form that it's in," Freeman said. "I'm not sure what it's going to do with those who are trying to help us in the community, the small rescuers trying to get strays out of our community."

Mallen said Friday the $10 license is only meant to be an incentive.

"If an animal is going to be rescued, there should be an incentive to get that animal adopted within a year," Mallen said.

Walsh said animal rescue permits would be new to the city. Organizing rescuers could make them eligible for grants, and connect them, she said. Setting standards also could reduce new litters, disease and other health issues.

"One of the problems is really good kind-hearted people want to help, so people start inundating them with animals to take on," Walsh said. "They don't necessarily know any kind of standards for keeping large groups of animals."

Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem said Monday he's not 100 percent pleased with the ordinance, but it's time for the city to act.

"I think we have to get something in place, and after we have that in place, we can observe how different areas do with regards to fees and rescue animals work out," Hakeem said.

The council will meet today for an agenda session at 3 p.m. and its regular meeting at 6 p.m. at 1000 Lindsay St.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at 423-757-6481 or lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @glbrogdoniv.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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