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Better animal control service sought

Zephyrhills officials are looking into alternatives after too many complaints about the county's quality of service.

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
Published June 9, 2003

ZEPHYRHILLS - City officials say they just want to get their money's worth. But from their point of view, repeated complaints about barking dogs, idle police officers waiting to hear the howling, and long response times from a 9-to-5 county office are not worth $38,000 a year.

Police Chief Jerry Freeman said this week that he is looking into other options for animal control service in Zephyrhills to replace the contract the city now has with Pasco County. That contract, paid out of the Police Department budget, expires Oct. 1.

"We're just looking for a quicker response to address the concerns of our citizens," Freeman said.

City officials started looking into the issue last month after Joanne Morse spoke in a City Council meeting about an ongoing problem with her neighbor's barking dogs. She ran down a detailed log she kept of each time the dogs disturbed her and her ailing husband late at night.

Several times, police officers responded to her complaints but could do nothing until they actually heard the dogs barking. County Animal Control closes at 5 p.m. and responds only to emergencies after hours.

Animal Control Manager Denise Hilton was out of the office Thursday and unavailable for comment.

Assistant county administrator Dan Johnson said three of Pasco's six cities - Dade City and San Antonio, in addition to Zephyrhills - contract with the county for animal control. St. Leo is negotiating a contract now. Residents in unincorporated areas are provided the service through their property tax revenues.

City Manager Steve Spina acknowledged that Zephyrhills residents get the same service from Animal Control as other customers.

"We don't get any different service than they provide anyone else," he said. "But we do get complaints about the service."

That's why he and Freeman are looking into other options, which could include hiring a private company to pick up strays and administer vaccinations. New Port Richey, for example, contracts with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Freeman said if there's enough interest, the city would solicit bids on the service.

It's too early to say whether the city could save any on the $38,000, a figure arrived at based on population. But Freeman said he'll be happy as long as the city gets its money's worth.

"If we can't get them to respond, it wouldn't be worth any price," he said.

The city used to employ its own animal control officer, but that became too expensive and time-consuming, Spina said.

But hiring the county to do the work hasn't panned out the way he hoped.

"I don't think it's quite the service we thought it was. They just give us what they give everybody," Spina said. "We're maybe expecting a little more. We're kind of getting a Ford, and we want a Lincoln."

- Molly Moorhead covers news about Zephyrhills. She can be reached at 352 521-5757 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 29. Her e-mail address is moorhead@sptimes.com

[Last modified June 9, 2003, 02:03:18]


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