Council tables dog issue for another week, passes fee increase and resolution for sales tax increase initiative

Cedar City Council discusses changing the number of dogs residents can own from two to three, Cedar City, Utah, May 4, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George/Cedar City News
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Stock image, Cedar City News / St. George News

CEDAR CITY – After four weeks of debating the number of dogs a person can own inside the city limits, it appears the Cedar City Council has yet another week to go before they can lay the issue to rest.

The council had planned to make a decision Wednesday night on the issue of whether or not to increase the current dog limitation of two to three. However, after hearing from the police chief and his animal control officer, the council felt they needed time to iron out the details of a proposal Councilman Fred Rowley introduced early in the meeting.

Under Rowley’s proposal, the ordinance dictating how many dogs a person can own would not change. However, violations of that ordinance would not be enforced by itself, but rather when an animal control officer responds to a violation of the nuisance ordinance.

Rowley modeled his proposal along the same lines of how the state once tackled seat belt violations.

Prior to May 12, 2015, not wearing a seat belt was considered a secondary offense and could not be the exclusive reason for police to stop motorists. Rather officers were required to find other law violations, such as speeding, to make a traffic stop. Now, failure to wear a seat belt can warrant a traffic stop on its own merit.

By analogy, Rowley’s proposal would prohibit an officer from coming to the home only because someone owns more than two dogs. In this scenario, a violation of the nuisance ordinance would be considered the primary offense triggering a visit from the animal control officer. Once there, the officer could issue a citation to the dog owner for owning more than two dogs but only if there is also a nuisance violation.

The violator would then be required to pay fines for both offenses.

After the third offense, one dog would be removed from the home, “because the owner has shown himself or herself to be irresponsible in caring for their dogs,” Rowley said in making his proposal.

Rowley made the proposal, he said, in an attempt to balance both sides of the issue – people who already own three dogs don’t have to worry about losing them unless they become a problem.

“This basically says your dog is not a problem unless it’s brought to our attention,” Rowley said.

Stock Image | St. George/Cedar City News
Stock Image | St. George/Cedar City News

But after some discussion it was clear the issue was a little more complicated than initially thought, especially for law enforcement and animal control officers tasked with enforcing the law.

“Okay it’s starting to get a little more complicated and if it’s starting to get a little more complicated in my head, it’s going to be more complicated for the citizens of the city,” Cedar City Animal Control Officer Brandon Nowland said.

Nowland told council members if they were going to go down this road, they would have to look at hiring additional animal control officers because with more animals there will be more nuisances.

Councilman Paul Cozzens said he would support beefing up the nuisance ordinance, but would not consider any changes that would require the city to hire more animal control officers.

“I am adamantly opposed to doing anything that requires us to hire more animal control people,” Cozzens said. “We have one officer for all the schools, or two, when Washington County has one officer in each school. We have desperate needs in other places. We have these schools asking for more police officers to have their presence known in the schools and I don’t support anything that would make us hire more animal control officers. It’s been working what we’ve done. I hate to see us complicate it and I think you’re in the trenches and need to have a huge input on whatever we do.”

Cozzens as a lone dissenter, called on the council to do away with the limitations and allow residents to govern themselves.

But Nowland said it would end up being animal control who pays the price.

“I get the point of backing off and saying, ‘look let’s let people decide for themselves, let’s let them govern themselves in this way,’ and I applaud that. Only problem with that is, I get to do their job. So when I say that, I actually get to do their job day and day out,” Nowland said.

Cedar City Police Chief Bob Allinson had some concerns that Rowley’s proposal would take away the discretion of law enforcement to work with the community and would instead force them to issue citations.

Allinson also said he had a problem with the proposal sending a conflicting message to residents.

“I guess the problem I have with this is we’re telling people, ‘you’re in violation of the ordinance but if we don’t catch you again then you’re okay,’” Allinson said.

Both the chief and Nowland said the best option would be to increase the limit and avoid complicating the issue even further.

“If we’re looking at this and basically saying it’s okay to have three dogs, then let’s just keep it clean and say they can have three dogs,” Allinson said.

At the end, Cozzens proposed eliminating the limit with a sunset clause of one year.

“Let’s see how it goes and if it changes any, then we can go from there,” Cozzens said.

The other council members, however, did not agree, arguing it would create issues and unforeseen problems such as having to rid the community of hundreds of dogs at that time.

“Then it’s harder to tell people to get rid of those extra pets,” said Councilwoman Terri Hartley.

Cozzens questioned why the council has been thrashing this issue back and forth for nearly four weeks if the city can’t tell people now to get rid of any extra dogs.

Cozzens also said he did not believe there would be a “mad rush” of residents running out to get three dogs if the city lifted the limit but felt there were already so many people owning more than two, it would just make sense to increase the number of dogs residents can own.

The debate went on for more than an hour as the issue became even more complicated the longer the council talked.

With no definitive answers in sight, Mayor Maile Wilson suggested Rowley meet with the City Attorney Paul Bittmenn, Allinson and Nowland during the next week to come up with a solution to the problems introduced in council meeting.

“It doesn’t seem like we have a clear, concise thing to vote on today,” Wilson said.

The City Council plans to bring the issue back in their next meeting on Wednesday, May 18, at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 10 N. Main St.

Residents will be able to voice their opinions of the proposed ordinance that will be introduced at that time.

Resolution for ballot initiative to raise sales tax

In other business separate from the dog issue, the council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the Iron County Commission’s move to include an initiative on the November ballot that would allow residents to vote on a proposed 0.25 percent sales tax increase.

The council however opposed a part of the resolution, stating that it encourages residents to vote for the tax increase. Council members outspoken on the issue stated they did not want to encourage anyone to vote for yet another tax.

“I’m in favor of letting the citizenry decide, but I don’t like the part of the resolution that says we encourage the citizens to vote this way,” Rowley said.

Cozzens stated he will vote to approve the ballot initiative, but is opposed to the tax increase itself.

“I’m sick and tired of taxes,” Cozzens said. “I don’t want us as a city, like Fred said, I don’t want us to go out and lobby for the tax increase like they did for the swimming pool. It’s happened in the past and it’s illegal and I don’t want to see it happen again.”

If passed, the revenue remains within the county and will divided between the cities and the county. It is specifically earmarked for roads and cannot be used for any other purpose.

The city is projected to receive an annual $500,000 in revenue each year if the ballot initiative passes.

Aquatic Center fee increase

The council also unanimously approved a 5 percent fee increase for the Cedar City Aquatic Center fee schedule.

The general admission during the day is currently $4 a person and $21.95 for a monthly pass. Under the new fee schedule, the day pass will now cost approximately 50 cents more, while the monthly pass will see a $2 increase.

The change goes into effect on May 28.

Tentative City Budget

The council approved the city’s estimated $20 million tentative budget for 2016-17. More discussions and hearings will be held between now and the end of the month to iron out all the details. The final budget will be passed in June.

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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