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County to vote on animal rules

January 24, 2001

County to vote on animal rules



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer


Following a public hearing Tuesday on a revised Washington County animal control ordinance, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the final vote on the ordinance would probably be taken next Tuesday.

The intent is to update and modernize the animal control ordinance since the county has become more urbanized and residents live closer together, County Attorney Richard Douglas said. The document was last revised in 1991.

Tuesday's version of the 23-page ordinance was the 20th draft written by Douglas. Tuesday's was the third public hearing on the ordinance since it was made public in January 1999.

One group has changed its position on the proposed ordinance. The Farm Bureau endorses the present draft, said Steve Ernst, a Clear Spring farmer and spokesman for the Washington County Farm Bureau.

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The new version includes a general exemption for farm animals. That exemption was not included in an earlier version, sparking criticism from farmers and the Farm Bureau.

Of more than 25 people who attended Tuesday's hearing, at least 12 spoke, many seeking clarifications.

Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said he has been getting phone calls from residents concerned the proposed ordinance would require them to get rid of animals. The ordinance seems to take care of concerns of the Humane Society of Washington County but not of animal owners, he said.

He said he was unsure whether he was ready to vote for the ordinance.

Snook and Commissioner John L. Schnebly said no document is perfect.

"I guess there is not going to be an ideal ordinance," Snook said.

Carol Johnson, a past president of the Humane Society, said there will never be unanimous agreement on an animal control ordinance, and suggested the commissioners strive to reach a consensus.

Johnson said county officials should keep in mind a basic concept: County residents who choose to care for animals have responsibilities. If they are not caring for the animals properly, they should be penalized, she said.

The proposed fines are up to $25 for a first offense, up to $100 for the second offense and up to $250 for the third and subsequent violations. Current civil fines are $10, $25 and $50.

Swartz said the new fines are "pretty steep," and he's not sure he can support that.

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