Cut of ACO position has residents seeing red
Of course, there were the red numbers representing budget losses in Town Administrator Bruce Keiser’s PowerPoint presentation. But dozens of islanders wore all sorts of red clothing and ribbons in support of one of their own.
And that one, Cathy Gregory, occasionally wiped tears from her sometimes-red eyes.
The Town Council’s proposed budget cuts for fiscal year 2010- 2011 include the termination of Jamestown’s animal control offi cer – the $75,523-a-year post (with salary and benefits) that Gregory has held for years.
A passionate, but well-behaved group of supporters drummed up support in the week before the meeting, but most said they heard of the rally in passing.
Some of Gregory’s red-clad contingent said they heard of the group through word of mouth. Others said they found it on the Internet. Island resident LuAnn Bothelo organized a group on the social networking site Facebook, where fans can see photos of a dog donning a sign around its neck that reads, “Save our Dog Officer.” More than 100 members became fans of the page in oppo- sition to the proposed cut, many of them from within the community.
Gregory said all of the support is a result of the close-knit community in Jamestown
“It took on a life of its own because of the people and their passion for animals,” she said.
Rosemary Forbes-Woodside said she was told to wear red, but the decision to attend the meeting was an easy one.
“I believe in this,” she said. “I think they need the job.”
Only a portion of the online members attended the meeting, but red dominated the room – and it was evident that many of those in attendance were steadfast in their support.
Mary Wright addressed the council, saying that though Gregory has done superb work as the animal control officer, it’s equally important that the position remain in the budget.
“We need to have somebody here who’s going to be taking care of both wild and domestic animals,” she told the Press after speaking to the council.
Gregory said the show of support is a tremendous positive, but admitted that even she was taken aback by the emotionally charged letters read on her behalf.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said.
Her support group wasn’t preplanned or organized rigidly, she said.
“People started talking about it and it took off,” she said. “It started at the coffee shop, it started in the street. It started at home.”
In his presentation, Keiser said that with benefits included, the town could stand to save a total of $75,523 by eliminating the position.
He also emphasized that as state funding has decreased, these decisions have to be made – but they’re certainly not made on a personal level, he said. He sympathized with those who showed support, but said, “The services that the residents turned out tonight to appeal about retaining are not currently provided in other communities.”
His presentation also included a 12-month record of the control officer’s actions, with several low figures for responses and incoming calls.
“This service is a luxury,” he said.
Nancy Crawford, president of the Humane Society of Jamestown, dismissed the numbers, saying, “You don’t even need to call, she’s so good. She’s like a neighborhood watch.”
Gregory works a 40-hour week, working either a morning shift or an afternoon shift. She responds to rabid animals, lost dogs, dog bites and dead animals. But it became evident as her backers spoke that they felt she did much more.
After her many allies spoke, Gregory approached the podium.
“I appreciate the fact that you have a tough job,” she told the council, adding that she respects the numbers presented by Keiser.
But, she said, “These are my numbers,” gesturing to the rows of friends and family behind her.
Keiser acknowledged that the decision was a difficult one, but said the group needs to understand that it all boils down to finances.
“Ultimately, the goal was to save up to $70,000 or so,” he said after the meeting.
Resident Tim Marsh said he attended the meeting and wore red because, “She’s always willing to help you out. Even if it’s something she can’t give you an answer for, she’ll find it out.”
After the meeting, in the wake of dozens of handshakes and parting hugs, Gregory spoke about the night’s events. With her family in tow, and fighting back emotion, she said, “I’m a town employee, and I’m a resident, a lifetime resident. I think that the position should stay.”