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PLPOA pulls animal control funding

While domestic canine companions add immeasurable joy to the lives of countless Archuleta County residents and guests, controlling their unsupervised movements will likely be more difficult by the new year.

In a certified letter dated Sept. 13, 2010, the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association (PLPOA) informed the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) that it will terminate a contractual animal control agreement with the county by year’s end. PLPOA General Manager Gloria Petsch signed the letter, a copy of which also went to Sheriff Pete Gonzalez.

Specifically, the letter addressed to the BoCC read, “At the Regular Board of Directors meeting of September 9, 2010, the Board voted to terminate the ‘Agreement for Animal Control’ with Archuleta County. Therefore, notice is hereby given that we cancel our contract entitled ‘Agreement for Animal Control’ dated February 16th, 2010 to provide animal control services for the residents of Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association.

“This Cancellation is effective 11:59 p.m., December 31, 2010.”

According to Petsch, the board tally was four directors in favor of canceling the contract, with two against and one absent.

Until the board approves the Sept. 9 minutes at its next regular meeting (Oct. 14), no one would comment on whether the cancellation is the result of current economic concerns.

In the Aug. 12 minutes, under Item 2 of the General Manager’s Report, Petsch indicated that during July, four reports were taken, with three dogs impounded; two dogs returned to owners; one dangerous dog reported, one summons issued; 26 miscellaneous citizen contacts made; 34 calls from dispatch to an animal control officer for service, and 2,052 officer miles logged for animal control.

June statistics were similar, with seven reports taken and five dogs impounded; two dangerous dogs reported; 16 verbal warnings and one written warning issued; no summons issued; 33 miscellaneous citizen contacts made; 29 service calls from dispatch to an animal control officer, four animal welfare checks made, and 2,064 officer miles logged.

In a recent phone interview, Archuleta County Undersheriff John Weiss said that the PLPOA’s decision to terminate the animal control contract took the county by surprise.

“It caught us off guard,” he said, “but we need to work through this. We get a significant number of calls from that area and calls were rising in number.”

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

“We (the county) didn’t see it coming,” Weiss said, “but we’re in the middle of the 2011 budget now, and are discussing it. Worst case, with revenue being short about $53,000, we’ll lose an (animal control) officer.”

Weiss assured The SUN that the sheriff’s office bears the ultimate responsibility and will continue enforcing all laws, but may have to prioritize future calls. For instance, he said, if a dangerous dog complaint comes in at the same time as a traffic accident or medical emergency, the dog matter may have to wait.

For now, Weiss said the sheriff’s office is strongly requesting BoCC funding approval sufficient to keep both animal control officers on the job.

“Both are good at what they do,” he said. “They know the community neighborhoods and the dogs, and the community has made quite an investment in training and equipping them.”

At present, officers Chris Crump and Gabriel Cersonsky look after the county’s many canine companions, with Cersonsky focusing primarily on the Pagosa Lakes area, while Crump patrols there and in other areas, countywide.

chuck@pagosasun.com