by Brent Hovey

Reporter

Aurora -- Wild animals have been a problem for local residents for a while, and that's why City Council said it recently formed a subcommittee to find a solution.

The subcommittee for nuisance animal trapping met for the first time May 23.

The panel consists of Councilmen James Fisher, Tom Dreher and George Hettinger.

Its purpose, according to Fisher, is to review existing procedures to deal with nuisance animal control, and if they don't satisfy the needs of residents, explore what can be done to do so.

The policy requires a resident to call the police department about a nuisance animal.

Police then call trapper Greg Miller, who visits the affected area and assesses the situation.

If he deems it is a nuisance, he traps the animal and bills the city. If he doesn't think it is a nuisance, he offers to trap the animal if the resident is willing to pay him for the service.

Calls to the police department about nuisance animals have included a bat in a bathroom, mole in a yard, skunks under a shed, bats/raccoons in chimneys, dead bird, injured duck, raccoon in trash, blackbird which flew into a tree and was injured and a raccoon with a glass bottle over its head.

The list of nuisance reports was compiled from the police department by Deputy Clerk of Council Donna Hawks.

Concerns about the issue were brought to Council by Ward 6's Dreher, who said he has had countless calls about nuisance animals and how the city handles them.

Dreher said he believes the existing policy isn't fair to residents.

"IF A WARD 6 resident calls the police department, they say they'll send a trap out at a cost of $25 a day, plus another $25 to remove the animal," he explained. "I don't know why my ward is being charged and others aren't, if that is the case.

"They [the residents] don't want to spend that kind of money, so they don't do anything or they try to trap it themselves."

Dreher added his ward's residents trapped 22 animals in one 60-day span last year.

He added he would like to see a uniform policy where the cost is split between the city and residents and the exact definition of what a nuisance animal is defined.

Dreher explained the former policy was that the police department would call Miller, who is contracted by the city, and he would catch and remove the animal at no cost to the resident.

Dreher said that policy changed because it was becoming too expensive to the city.

Over the years, Dreher said the policy has become somewhat difficult for residents to understand. He noted some are being charged the $25 a day fee and some aren't.

Other questions that have arisen are what constitutes a nuisance animal, when should residents accept the responsibility for taking care of the animals and when should the city.

The panel agreed several factors turn much of the responsibility over to residents.

For example, feeding wild animals such as at a birdfeeder and not being careful with trash are the two main reasons properties attract nuisance animals.

"If I choose to have a birdfeeder in my backyard and I get a raccoon hanging from my gutter, it's my problem," Fisher said. "But at least I can call the city, or I can look in the phone book [for someone to handle the pest].

"SOME residents are very conscious about their garbage; they put it all in sealed bags and containers. Some put it out two days early because they are away from home, and that could attract nuisance animals."

Hettinger added, "If people are careless with their waste, they're going to have animal problems."

All the subcommittee members agreed if Miller is sent out to a home where the above-mentioned conditions exist, the city should not be responsible to pay for trapping.

The city handled 316 animal calls in 2005, of which only 56 were classified as nuisance animal situations. In 2006, the numbers were 260 and 50, respectively.

The panel was told the city spent $8,030 on animal control in 2005 and $10,115 in 2006. Hettinger said the costs could have been lessened by residents handling the situations in a different way.

"I'd say 30 percent to 50 percent of these calls are pure nonsense," Hettinger said. "I heard one call was for a bobcat. I've been a hunter for many years and have never seen a bobcat around here. To send a trapper out to check that out is ridiculous."

Hettinger said he thinks residents should be responsible for trapping their own animals, but realizes most won't or don't know how to.

"I'm on the side of people getting rid of the animal themselves, but I agree a lot of people in the community want someone to call," he said. "That's why we need to enhance what we have in place."

The panel agreed it needs to clarify and make the policy more uniform.

Fisher and Hawks vowed to pull together ideas and information before the panel's next meeting, for which a date has not been established.

The members said the goal is to come up with a uniform policy that shares costs fairly between the city and residents.

E-mail: bhovey@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-688-0088 ext. 3115