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Soldotna mulls new animal control ordinance

Posted: Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Soldotna City Council is moving forward with a plan to scrap the town's 20-year-old animal control ordinance and replace it with an updated version more relevant to the community today.

Drafted by police Chief John Lucking and sponsored by Councilmember Shea Hutchings, the new ordinance aims to modernize the outdated one and grant the city more authority when dealing with problem animals, such as dogs that have become entangled with the law on multiple occasions.

"If someone had an animal that was a repeat offender, all we could keep doing under the old ordinance was to address each individual incident," Lucking said. "This ordinance gives us a tool to actually remove the animal from the owner and find a new home for it."

Hutchings agreed that this facet of the new ordinance will help the city consider the overall behavior of an animal or owner when imposing a sanction instead of handling each incident on a case-by-case basis.

"If a dog gets impounded three, four, five times -- especially in a year's time -- obviously there's an issue there," he said. "And that couldn't really be addressed under the old ordinance. And this way it can be."

Significantly, the new ordinance also allows the Soldotna Police Department to issue tickets for breaches of animal control laws, much like they would a speeding violation. Under the previous ordinance, imposing a fine was a much pricier route for the city -- and consequently the residents of Soldotna -- to take.

"You would actually have to go to civil court just like two individuals suing each other," Hutchings explained, "which is a very precarious situation for a city as far as it would cost taxpayers a lot more money to go down that avenue rather than just being able to issue a citation."

Lucking and the Soldotna Police Department will formally assume responsibility for enforcing the city's animal control laws through the passage of the ordinance, although the task informally shifted to them six months ago when Steve Bonebrake, who had previously undertaken the duty, retired from his position as the City of Soldotna Public Works director.

Hutchings pitched the idea for an updated ordinance to Bonebrake about a year ago after researching the animal control policies of Anchorage, Homer, and several other cities in Oregon and California. He subsequently observed that, comparatively, Soldotna's ordinance was sorely outdated.

"It just didn't really fit the needs of the community right now," Hutchings said. "That's why we decided to go in an entirely different direction."

The more "housekeeping" related aspects of the new ordinance just change or entirely remove bizarre parts of the decades old one.

"It just cleans up some nonsensical portions of the ordinance itself," Lucking said. "Like, you couldn't have an animal in a barbershop or a hair salon and that really has no relevance to reality and it doesn't warrant being in an animal control ordinance."

Soldotna residents can voice their comments and concerns regarding the proposal during a public meeting on Dec. 22, at Soldotna City Hall.

"As always, we look forward to hearing from Soldotna and area residents at the public hearing," Mayor Peter Micciche said. "Often the best products include options brought forward by the public not yet considered by the administration or city council."

If any amendments to the ordinance are deemed necessary, adjustments will be made and the revised edition will be reconsidered. Otherwise, the Soldotna City Council will vote to officially instate the ordinance directly following the public hearing on Dec. 22.

Karen Garcia can be reached at karen.garcia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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