Fairfield, sheriff working out possible deal for animal control

The city of Fairfield is at a turning point in how it will handle animal control in the city.

The question City Council debated Monday, and will have to answer next month, is will it keep the duties in-house or go with the county’s dog warden, which is the Butler County Sheriff’s Office?

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Until February, the city of Fairfield had one full-time officer and a part-time officer for animal control. With long-time animal control officer Chuck Geurin’s retirement this past February, the city only has part-time animal control officer Aaron Adkins, who’s been with the city for about two years. However, officials say there is a need for a full-time officer.

There are between 1,600 to 1,700 animal control-related calls a year, which is more than what a part-time officer can handle, said Lt. Steve Maynard.

City Manager Mark Wendling said there’s been some discussion between the city and sheriff’s office since Geurin’s departure.

“There are pros and cons to both,” he said, “but basically we’ve been working with the sheriff’s office and we’ve come up with a contract that does largely reflect what we do here currently.”

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The contract, which is a one-year contract, would require the sheriff’s office to provide the same level of service the city now provides, but at what’s projected to be a $23,000 savings. Fairfield spends about $83,000 a year in salary, benefits and equipment for animal control. The Butler County Sheriff’s Office would charge the city $60,000 to dedicate an animal control officer to the city.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, who was given dog warden responsibilities in July 2013, said if the city would move forward with his department, he'd like to hire Adkins on as the city's animal control officer.

“If the guy wants it, he’s got to do the work, but he’s already here. You already know him,” said Jones.

Services the animal control officer provides include handling calls of pets running at large and abuse or neglect of dogs, as well as disposal of dead animals and removing wild animals.

“I don’t know of any other community where animal control would come out and trap animals for you,” said Mayor Steve Miller.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones confirmed that statement: “You’re it.”

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And when asked by Councilman Bill Woeste if the sheriff’s office provides that same level of service elsewhere, Jones said, “Nobody can afford it.”

Saving what’s projected to be $23,000 could help in other areas of the city, said Councilman Tim Abbot, though City Council acknowledge the change is not being pushed purely as a cost-savings measure.

“We’re going to have people that aren’t going to be happy out there if we make the change. We probably have a lot of repeat users of animal control. It’s an emotional issue,” he said. “If it’s a savings, maybe it’s another $25,000 we put toward another police officer on the street, another firefighter on the street, another EMT.”

But for Councilman Chad Oberson it does come down to dollars and cents. And it does add up.

“When it comes down to it, if you don’t look at the whole picture this way, what’s it all equal out to,” said Oberson about debating this and other city services. “If you take the emotion out of it, and you take the true business, fiscal responsibility that I feel I try to have here.”

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Fairfield Police Chief Mike Dickey, who didn’t speak in support of or against the proposed contract, said animal control “is one of the premier services” offered in the community. But with respect to the contract that’s on the table, he said there is “significant goodwill” of having a Fairfield officer, in a Fairfield police vehicle, providing animal control in the city.

“It matches everything we do, and while I appreciate the value of $25,000, I also appreciate the value of demonstrating to the public that we are providing as Fairfield a high-level of service,” said Dickey.

Jones said the officer would be in a sheriff’s deputy uniform and drive a sheriff’s office vehicle, but the city of Fairfield can be branded on either one with a patch and decal, respectively.

But Jones said after the contract expires there is no obligation for the city to continue with his office.

“It’s a year,” Jones said to City Council. “And if you don’t like it, cancel it.”

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