Baldwin City to move forward with rewrite of animal control ordinance

? Baldwin City pit bull owners can breathe easier after the City Council directed the city attorney to move forward with proposed revisions to the city’s animal control ordinances.

On Monday, Baldwin City Police Chief Greg Neis presented the council with a draft of a proposed revision, which he said was the result of more than two years of effort on the part of Lawrence attorney and animal rights advocate Katie Barrett, former city administrator Chris Lowe, city attorney Matt Hoy and himself, Neis said.

The draft left much of the city’s existing ordinance in place but did address provisions regarding dangerous and vicious animals, which primarily applied to dogs.

Neis said the draft eliminated the city’s pit bull ban, which he acknowledged wasn’t enforced.

“We all know there are people in the city with pit bulls,” he said. “I have yet to approach an aggressive one that comes close to meeting the standards of a dangerous dog. Most are pretty lovable. If one does come to town, we’ll deal with it with the dangerous dog provisions.”

The city currently issues citations for nuisance animals, dangerous animals and vicious animals. Neis said the draft condensed that list to nuisance and dangerous animals.

“Our officers were having a hard time distinguishing between dangerous and vicious dogs,” the chief said. “This will be a lot easier for our officers to enforce.”

Neis said another problem with the existing ordinance was its unenforceable requirement that once a vicious animal citation is issued, the city prosecutor must schedule a hearing in municipal court within 10 days to determine if the animal was indeed vicious. Holding hearings on that timeline was nearly impossible because of the municipal judge’s schedule, he said.

The draft also gives the city prosecutor more flexibility in how to handle dangerous dog citations. In severe cases, the prosecutor could still ask the municipal judge to find an animal dangerous. The judge can order that the owner destroy the animal, remove it from the city or confine it with such conditions as the owner secure $100,000 of liability insurance and post signage warning of a dangerous animal.

The draft also establishes the Companion Animal Hospital vet clinic as the city’s animal shelter and spells out the duties of an animal control officer, although that position will not be filled at this time.

As with the existing ordinance, the draft bans a large number of exotic animals, from poisonous snakes to hippopotamuses. With the exception of pigs, more common livestock and farm animals are allowed on the condition they are housed 300 feet from a neighboring household.

Neis admitted that the department doesn’t have the manpower to enforce control ordinances and investigated them when a resident made a complaint. More rigorous enforcement would require the hiring of an animal control officer, he said.

After Neis’ presentation, the council directed Hoy to create an ordinance from the draft.

In other business, the council:

• Approved the first reading of an ordinance renewing the city’s 20-year franchise agreement with Kansas City Power & Light, which allows the company to maintain its poles and other equipment in the city. It also requires KCP&L to pay the city a tax of 5 percent to its gross receipts from the sale of electrical power in the city. Interim City Administrator Brad Smith said the renewal was part of the city’s agreement to purchase the right from KCP&L to provide electrical service to the business park and six other customers in the city for about $590,000. With that, KCP&L will not have any remaining customers within the city limits, but the agreement protects the city should it annex property KCP&L serves, he said.

• Approved the first reading of an ordinance that allows the city to purchase electrical power from Marshall County Wind Farm LLC. The action followed the council’s decision last month to direct city staff to purchase 1 megawatt of power produced at the wind farm at a 20-year fixed cost of $33.39 per megawatt hours.

• Named the Lawrence Journal-World the city’s official paper with the end of publication of the Baldwin City Signal.