West County towns consider regional dog officer


Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2018 7:43:03 AM

SHELBURNE — Keeping an animal control officer has been hard for small towns with large stretches of land, stray animals and part-time dog officer positions that only pay about $3,500 per year. Since most officers hold full-time jobs elsewhere, slow response time has been a common complaint, training is expensive and time-consuming, and some towns haven’t been able to fill these positions at all.

But with technical assistance from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), a regional model for the animal control officer has been proposed for a group of Franklin County towns and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, in which a regional animal control officer would be based at the Sheriff’s Office regional kennel and adoption center in Turners Falls.

Shelburne Selectmen backed the regional plan this week, after FRCOG community services Director Phoebe Walker presented information to the board.

The proposal is for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office to hire a full-time regional animal control officer, at the rate of $20.50 per hour — similar to that of the shared animal control officer shared by the towns of Athol and Orange.

The ACO (animal control officer) would spend 75 percent of the time working for the towns and about 25 percent working for the kennel.

The towns would be billed for 75 percent of the salary, 15 percent of the administrative cost, and $1,000 for supplies. The Sheriff’s Office would pay 25 percent of the salary.

During the first year, the costs to the towns will be about $37,770. The individual towns be assessed according to a formula based on population and EQV (equivalent valuation) — much like the formulas used for towns sharing costs for the Solid Waste Management District, FRCOG services and the Veterans District.

The Sheriff’s Office will also provide a vehicle, laptop and other equipment.

The towns currently considering this regional service are: Buckland, Colrain, Heath, Monroe, Northfield, Rowe and Shelburne, according to Walker.

These towns, along with Charlemont, had listed the need for an animal control officer as among their priorities for technical assistance in the coming year. Charlemont opted not to be part of this plan, so there is room for another town to participate, Walker said.

Selectman Andrew Baker asked how Shelburne’s estimated share of costs, of about $5,500 per year, would compare to what the town now spends for animal control services. The answer was that Shelburne now spends about $4,600 per year, including $3,800 for salary.

“A lot of towns only have one (animal officer) for a few years, either because it’s not a perfect fit – they have to have other jobs, because no one can make it on $3,000 a year,” Walker said.

She said the animal control officer would get training, but would not manage barn animals, such as loose cows or pigs. The regional ACO would respond to calls from any participating towns and attempt to catch any stray dogs, returning those whose owners are known and housing the others at the kennel until the owners are found.

They would also issue citations and fines to people who violate local and state animal control laws. They would prepare and file complaints with district court for unpaid citations and provide annual report information that could be included in towns’ annual reports.

Selectmen asked what would happen to their expenses if not all eight towns agreed to the regional plan. Walker said it’s possible that more towns would be approached to join.

The Shelburne Selectboard voted to join the regional ACO plan, contingent upon the town’s payment remaining close to what it now spends for animal control. Walker said she hopes the remaining towns will decide by year’s end. If the plan is supported, she hopes that a regional animal control officer will be hired by March.


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