Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett attended the Alna Board of Selectmen meeting May 6 to speak about the county’s animal control officer program, which Alna is considering joining following the resignation of their animal control officer.
The county program was initiated approximately one year ago due to the request of municipalities struggling with animal control services, Brackett said. High turnover rates and a lack of training and supervision was the impetus behind the creation of the county program, administered by the sheriff’s office.
Currently, six towns participate in the county program – Waldoboro, Bremen, Damariscotta, Jefferson, Whitefield, and Bristol. Edgecomb and Dresden have also expressed interest in joining the program, Brackett said.
The sheriff’s office contracts with participating municipalities to provide animal control services, Brackett said. The county program is overseen by a county committee composed of representatives from each participating municipality, which meets quarterly.
Animal control officers work on-call hours, which the municipalities where the response is needed are billed for, Brackett said. Municipalities have the ability to pick their own animal control officers, but the individual would become a county employee and have to go through the county’s hiring process, which includes a background check.
The county pays animal control officers $15 an hour and reimburses for mileage at the federal rate. According to Brackett, animal control officers receive a minimum of two hours pay when a call requires a physical response. The sheriff’s office works to make sure the hours billed for animal control services remain within the town’s budget, Brackett said.
Alna currently pays its ACO $12 an hour with a budget cap of $1,500. The animal control officer responded to nine calls in 2014 and was paid for 10 hours, Town Clerk Amy Warner said. Alna paid a total of $500 for animal control services, which included eight hours of training and mileage.
The goal of the county animal control program was not to save municipalities money, but to provide a needed service, Brackett said. However, municipalities split the cost of training and the cost of purchasing equipment, which may result in savings for the towns, Brackett said.
Despite a higher wage and greater supervision and support, the sheriff’s office has experienced a high turnover rate among its animal control officers, primarily due to life changes, Brackett said. The sheriff’s office is actively recruiting new animal control officers, Brackett said, and two new hires recently completed training.
Sheriff’s office deputies pinch hit for animal control calls if an animal control officer is unavailable, Brackett said, but he noted the county program was not designed to provide 24/7 coverage. In an emergency, the sheriff’s office will respond regardless of the availability of an animal control officer, Brackett said.
The sheriff’s office can only enforce state law, however, unless a contract is signed with the municipality, which would enable the office to enforce local ordinances. Alna has no local ordinance regarding animal control, Warner said. According to Warner, a barking dog ordinance that many residents thought existed never became an official ordinance.
“This sounds like the best of both worlds,” Third Selectman Doug Baston said. Selectmen decided to hold off on voting on the proposal until their next meeting so residents would have a chance to weigh in on joining the program.
Brackett’s official business at the Alna selectmen’s meeting was to discuss the county animal control program. However, he took a minute to update selectmen on the uncertain future of the county jail system. According to Brackett, the governor has drawn a clear line in the sand over providing state funding to the county jail system.
With the limit that can be raised from property taxes for county jails possibly about to disappear, Brackett warned municipalities may see a significant increase in the county tax rate – already up from the previous year. Brackett encouraged selectmen to talk with their state representatives about the decisions being made regarding county jails.
“The Legislature is going to make a decision,” Brackett said, “and it may be a costly one.”