LSCSD animal control issues raise hackles

Deborra Brannon
Lake Shastina Community Services District board director Paula Mitchell reviews the preliminary operating budget for Fy 2015/16 at the board’s meeting June 17.

The Lake Shastina Community Services District board of directors formed a committee to discuss animal control, accepted a preliminary 2015/16 operating budget, tabled discussion of wastewater rates and connection fees, approved the sale of five district items, and discussed an update about the search for new water wells during its meeting on June 17.

Animal Control

A motion by director Barbara Thomsson to repeal the district’s animal control ordinance and return the responsibility to the Property Owners Association failed in a split vote, with Thomsson and board president Roxanna Layne voting yes, directors Paula Mitchell and Mike French voting no.

Thomsson made the motion after discussion of Wilson’s newly drafted ordinance that would change animal control violations from misdemeanors to infractions, eliminating the need for the District Attorney’s Office to file the charges in court and effectively reducing penalties.

Wilson told the board that another alternative would be to handle animal control on an administrative basis and assess fees for violations.

Under the current district ordinance, the misdemeanor penalty for the charge of “dog at large” is a fine of $1,000 or one year in jail, according to Wilson.

“We are looking for direction. No one wants $1,000 or a year in jail. We can reduce these violations to infractions that go directly to court, like speeding tickets. Or, we can have an administrative citations that incur a fee unless an administrative review is requested. Or we can have both,” Wilson told the board.

Thomsson said when she moved to Lake Shastina in 2011, animal control was the responsibility of the POA, which has rules governing animals in its Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions.

Her view that enforcement should be returned to the association was met with several audible comments from the public audience expressing the view that the POA had, in fact, never had the responsibility so it could not be “returned.”

Interim general manager Jamie Lea’s staff report indicated his belief that animal control is a responsibility of the POA through its CC&Rs but also stated that the district board 35 years ago had transferred the responsibility to the district police department.

He recommended the POA assume responsibility for animal control, largely because associations can raise assessments to cover expenses by a vote of a board, whereas the district cannot.

Lea’s report stated that “there is no budget for animal control” in the district, and pointed out that the last three attempts to raise police fees to increase revenues for the department have failed.

General discussion about animal control rules in the association’s CC&Rs elicited a question from the audience about who had the authority to enforce those rules.

One man said that the CC&Rs are “part of how a community conducts itself,” but he said the community has a police department to do enforcement.

CSD attorney Bob Winston said the last time he was asked for an opinion about the matter was about 20 years ago. He said at that time the POA could not make arrests or issue citations and the district did not have the power to adopt an animal control ordinance, although its police department could enforce the county’s animal control ordinance inside the district.

He acknowledged that things may be different now

Thomsson said the district has neither the facilities nor the money to provide the rabies clinics, animal control center, shelter for collected dogs, collection trucks, and other services associated with animal control contained in the ordinance.

“Our officers are not dog catchers, nor do they want to be,” she told the board.

Mitchell countered that the POA has no personnel to do animal control work.

“What would result would be no policing of animals altogether,” she said.

Mitchell also observed that when people have issues with animals they are most likely to call the police.

A committee composed of one board member, Wilson, and about five community members was formed to explore the issue of animal control in the CSD.

2015/16 operating budget

Mitchell reported that the budget committee’s goal was to present balanced budget but that “because so many issues remain undecided, the committee had to budget income, expenses and reimbursements on an ‘as is today’ basis.”

The board accepted the preliminary operating budget with the understanding that it is subject to change as circumstances change.

One example of the issues undecided at this juncture is that the district has no contract with the Property Owners Association but is receiving reimbursements, Mitchell explained.

Another is that the budget assumes the district’s COPS grant will continue, but she emphasized that “that’s up to the state to decide.”

Mitchell said there is no way to predict how many grants or donations will be received for the Fire Division Fund and that Public Safety chief Mike Wilson’s contract is up in January 2016.

She also pointed out that pay for a permanent general manager is undecided, given the possibility of the CSD and the POA separating.

Mitchell cited the unknown future financial relationship between CSD and POA as an issue in itself. “Currently the district receives more than $355,000 a year in payroll alone.”

Mitchell also reminded the board of the possibility that district water system controls may have to be upgraded to digital technology, an change she described as “very expensive.”

The following capital expenditures are anticipated from the Local Agency Investment Fund, according to the preliminary budget accepted by the board:

• A new public works office/operations building;

• Refit/refurbishment for two sewer lift stations;

• Sludge drying beds and headworks containment;

• Study and development of new wells;

• Repair/refurbishment for water Tank #3;

• New pumps and tank for one water station;

• Dryscaping and new insulated windows for public safety;

• Replacement of Public Safety Chief’s truck;

• Improvements to fire station garage bay; and,

• Replacement of Type 1 fire engine.

Mitchell thanked the other members of the budget committee for their efforts – Gary Fitzgerald, Mario Marchi, Connie Whitfield, Jamie Lea, Debbie Nelle, Mike Wilson, Rober Moser, Mike Colombo, and administrative staff who assisted.

Water wells

Conflict of interest concerns were expressed by members of the audience about property owned by district interim general manager Jamie Lea being considered for water exploration in the search for new well sites.

Mitchell described as “a conflict of interest” the potential contract for his land she said Lea had presented at the last district meeting.

Layne said she and Lea had discussed his property and that she had spoken about the issue with Winston. She said the district would avoid conflict of interest issues.

Mitchell suggested that the district needed expert help with land ownership issues and requested that the district hire a “licensed, insured, and bonded” outside company to run the well project.

Audience member and former board director Carol Cupp asked if the land being considered is in a POA.

“We have residential laws and this is a commercial venture. All residents would have to vote on it. Shouldn’t that happen first?” she asked.

Layne said testing for water should happen first “to see if there’s anything to vote on. If we find a viable well I think Rancho Hills will go for it in this drought.”

Sale of district items

The board approved the sale of two old trailers and three district public works vehicles, one of which is inoperable and two of which have already been replaced.

Layne said she would agree to the sale of the vehicles but she expressed her view that the two of the vehicles had been “ruined” because the POA had been using them as well as the district.

“The POA’s work is heavier than ours. They pay for gas, but not for replacement. These vehicles may have lasted 10-15 years longer if the POA hadn’t used them,” Layne said.