‘ACO pay averages $1,271 per call’
Not that it is a news flash, but the U.S. federal government’s deficit spending has reached critical mass. Rhode Island’s state government is on the brink of bankruptcy, along with states like California and New York. Jamestown is a microcosm of these situations – not nearly as desperate, but if we don’t start to make some diffi- cult decisions, we could be headed down the same path to serious financial trouble.
Bruce Keiser, our town manager, has presented a realistic budget, but even with a tax increase of 1.18%, it is going to be a burden for residents on fixed incomes because of increases in energy costs and taxes at the state and federal level.
The issue of eliminating the animal control officer’s position has not been “cherry picked,” as noted by a resident at the initial budget hearing. Reduction in the cost of services provided by the town has been an ongoing topic of discussion for a number of years. A prime example of this is the savings of $30,000 in overtime that had been paid to police officers to cover the dispatch desk because the police union superseded the dispatchers’ union for any needed dispatcher overtime. Mr. Keiser negotiated that out of the police contract. There was also a comment about DPW workers sleeping on the job in the West Reach area. Those incidents took place three years ago and the individual involved has been terminated. These actions have been resolved with little fanfare.
As a council member, I was very much involved in those actions, as well as in efforts to raise capital by actively working with DPW on town auctions. As a council member, I took a very hard look at services provided by the town on how they could be improved and be made more efficient. Among the services analyzed were those functions provided by the ACO.
The first thing noted was that the ACO only works two days during the timeframe that the leash law is in effect; the other two days worked is the second shift, a timeframe in which the leash law is not in effect. Mr. Keiser noted in his presentation that there were only 59 core responses by the ACO. That position costs the town $75,000 a year including salary, fringe benefits and operational expenses.
That averages out to $1,271 per call.
Core responses were defined as nuisance calls, barking dogs, leash law violations and dog bites, of which there were six for the year. In addition, a primary responsibility of the ACO is to issue citations. The value of animal-related citations issued by the ACO for fiscal year 2008-2009 was $200 – a total of eight for the year. That raises the question of whether or not there is active enforcement or there really isn’t an animal control problem.
Another issue that was discussed in detail by the past council was the problem with cats.
One cat was left by the ACO at a local pound (and forgotten about); it wound up costing the town over $1,200 for a 30-day stay. I made the comment at that time that we could have put the cat up at one of those motels in Newport that charge $29 per night and it would have only cost us $870.
Eliminating a position that has a face on it is a very difficult decision. A decision that is perceived to impact animals adds an emotional factor, and I understand that. I won’t have a dog now because growing up, I had the world’s greatest dog. He was my best friend and I was the one that had to put him down. I can’t go there again – his picture is still in my wallet. However, because of these difficult economic times, we have to make some very tough decisions and eliminating the ACO is one of them.
The writer is a former member of the Jamestown Town Council.