FARMINGTON – Commissioners reviewed a proposal to have the county take over animal control officer duties in five towns Tuesday, requesting additional information prior to making a decision.
Sheriff Scott Nichols has been working on the concept for several months, after the county was approached by a selectman about the difficulties the community was having in hiring an animal control officer. Municipalities are required to have an ACO, who must be certified by the Department of Health and Human Services. Due to the training requirements of the position, and the typically low number of hours a rural community needs, some towns have had trouble filling the mandatory position.
Nichols said that five towns had expressed interest in participating in the pilot project: Industry, Farmington, New Sharon, Avon and Phillips. Additionally, the ACO would be responsible for the unorganized territories of Franklin County.
Nichols suggested a 20-hour per week position. The ACO could schedule calls or visits to review dog licenses, then work on an on-call basis in the contracted towns. Nichols said that the ACO would be trained at the Criminal Justice Academy as a part-time deputy, allowing the ACO to issue summons if necessary.
Farmington had offered to donate some of their ACO equipment, Nichols said. The FCSO had a used pickup truck that could serve as the ACO’s vehicle.
“I think it would be a big help to the towns,” Nichols said.
The contracting towns would pay the county the funds previously allocated for a town-hired ACO. Additionally, the UT budget includes a $10,000 allocation for animal control. Nichols has estimated that the position would cost $20,000 annually.
The concept would be introduced as a one year pilot project, Nichols said.
Commissioners’ reactions to the project were mixed. Commissioner Charlie Webster of Farmington said that he was opposed to the idea, as he saw it as an expansion of government. The part-time position could grow over time, Webster argued, and he didn’t like the idea of a FCSO employee collecting dog licensing fees.
Commissioner Clyde Barker of Strong, a former selectman, said that he felt the sheriff was “on the right track” with his project. Hiring ACOs had become difficult, he noted, and the county could provide that service to the communities.
Commissioner Gary McGrane of Jay said that he wanted to review the contracts between the towns and county before committing to any arrangement. He moved to table the issue, with Webster also in favor and Barker opposed.
County Clerk Julie Magoon said that she’d develop a town/county contract for the commissioners to consider.