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Animal control: To pay or not to pay

As recently reported, the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association (PLPOA) has informed the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) that it intends to terminate a contractual animal control agreement with the county by year’s end. Since rendering that decision in September, however, the association has received “communications” expressing both support and disapproval of the move.

The PLPOA has contributed approximately $53,000 a year to the county animal control budget, the loss of which could cost the county one of two animal control officers. According to county undersheriff John Weiss, the funding covers an officer’s salary and benefits; uniform, tools, vehicle and equipment expenses; and about $2,000 a year for training.

In a recent phone interview, PLPOA General Manager Gloria Petsch said, “We’ve received several communications in support of continuing animal control (funding), and a couple of property owners in support spoke at the last PLPOA Board of Directors meeting (Oct. 14). We’ve also received a couple (of communications) in support of discontinuing control.”

Petsch described the “communications” she referred to in her statement as a combination of letters, e-mails and secondhand comments from outside sources.

According to Archuleta County animal control officers Gabriel Cersonsky and Chris Crump, though, at least five citizens stepped forward at the Oct. 14 meeting, all speaking in favor of continuing financial support for Pagosa Lakes animal control.

Cersonsky added that no one — aside from PLPOA board vice president Richard Fortier, board secretary Rich Beaudry and a third, unnamed board member — showed support for discontinuing funding. Fortier chaired the October meeting in board president Gary Gray’s absence.

In an early October interview, Gray acknowledged interest in revisiting the issue, while director (and treasurer) Paul Boyd expressed a similar view at the Oct. 14 meeting. According to Cersonsky, director George Hatfield strongly advocated continued animal control funding.

Meanwhile, in answer to a SUN e-mail addressed to each of the PLPOA board members earlier this week, director Crista Munro responded with what she referred to as, “the board’s position on the subject of the animal control contract with the County.”

“For roughly ten years the PLPOA has contracted with Archuleta County to provide an extra animal control officer,” she began. “The annual cost of this service is currently over $50,000 for 2010.

“At the September regular board meeting the PLPOA board of directors decided to terminate the contract, effective December 31, 2010.

“A concerned group of PLPOA members attended the October board meeting with questions about the decision. The board promised to provide this explanation as to why this action was taken.

“The board held discussions on this topic and scheduled the issue for a vote at the September meeting, in advance of the 2011 budget work session. The process the Board uses in its budgeting process is to identify and eliminate unnecessary expenses. The board makes every effort to ensure that the Association is getting a full dollar of value for every single dollar of the property owners’ money. Using these same criteria when analyzing the animal control contract, the board made the decision to terminate the contract effective December 31, 2010.”

Munro suggested that certain property owners have occasionally asked the association to cease extra animal control funding, since they pay county property taxes, some of which already cover animal control expenses. She added that it’s the county’s responsibility to provide animal control for all residents outside town limits.

To support the board’s argument, Munro insisted that two officers working four 10-hour days a week leaves just one officer covering the entire county the remaining three days a week. Considering officer vacation times, she said about 180 days — or roughly half the year — the Pagosa Lakes area enjoys the same benefit as the rest of the county, while paying an extra subsidy.

Munro failed to mention that approximately 6,700 Pagosa Lakes property owners pay annual association dues other county residents are not subject to, nearly $8 each of which is applied to association animal control funding. Further, through the first nine months of this year, animal control officers patrolled the PLPOA area 78.6 percent of their time on duty, while 46 percent of all county animal-related reports written by both officers were in Pagosa Lakes. Of those, 64 percent were written by the animal control officer supported by PLPOA funding.

At the close of her e-mail response, Munro said, “The Board will contact the Archuleta County officials and urge them to keep both animal control officers to provide the important services to the citizens of Archuleta County.

“PLPOA members who feel animal control services are important can follow the normal political process of contacting their elected county officials.”

In an earlier phone interview, Munro acknowledged the possibility that board discussion of the matter could resurface during a Nov. 8 budget work session, provided someone asks that it be added to the agenda. “It’s a posted public meeting,” she said, “and something could be added if requested.”

Both Munro and Petsch suggested the most effective means of reversing the controversial board decision might be through an association annual election next July. While annual elections afford property owners the opportunity to select board members, they are apparently suitable for settling matters of dispute.

Meanwhile, in its 2011 budget process, county government hopes to find additional funding sufficient to retain both animal control officers. If unsuccessful, the PLPOA will have to step up, or face losing significant coverage. The association may even see mounting pressure to reduce annual dues as compensation for lost services.

chuck@pagosasun.com