Council looks at animal control

Bill would give officials power to take animals deemed a potential threat

Spurred by attacks in summer

Members OK measures on affordable housing, `green' tax credits

October 08, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County officials would have the power to take away animals they consider even "potentially dangerous" without going through a long bureaucratic process under a bill introduced into the County Council last night.

Prompted by several attacks by pit bull terriers during the summer, the bill would strengthen the powers of the county's animal-control administrator and police, while making it easier for citizens to register complaints. The bill does not refer to any specific breed or type of animal.

The county wants "the ability to take more effective action in that kind of situation," said police Capt. Kevin A. Burnett, who oversees animal control.

The council also gave final, unanimous approval to a bill that will help preserve affordable housing along the U.S. 1 corridor, where employers often have trouble filling jobs, and another offering tax credits to developers who build environmentally friendly, energy-saving buildings.

The only disagreement was a 3-2, party-line vote on a resolution offered by Councilman Guy J. Guzzone asking state legislators to again restrict the sale of July 4 fireworks to hand-held sparklers. A liberalization of state law allowed larger ground-level sparklers, prompting several complaints in the summer.

Republicans Allan H. Kittleman from the western county and Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City objected to Guzzone's resolution. Merdon, who sponsored the "green building" tax-credit bill, said later that he and Kittleman feel that the fireworks law should remain because the displays are not unduly dangerous.

The housing bill, which had been introduced by council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, allows the transfer of housing from one trailer park to another in the same school districts without interference from the county's strict - and time-consuming - growth-control laws.

Under the bill, which is retroactive to 2000, most of the 60 units lost when three adjacent trailer parks closed in North Laurel can be transferred to the Brentwood Manor Mobile Home Park, several miles north, which has plans to expand by 45 units. Without the law, Brentwood would have to wait years until new homes would be permitted under the county's housing allocation system.

"We've seen home prices escalate, and people are priced out of the county," Gray said when he introduced the measure. There was no discussion during last night's vote on the bill.

The animal-control bill, which will be subject to a public hearing Oct. 21 and a final vote Oct. 30, is meant to enable the county to step in forcefully when an owner refuses to voluntarily surrender an animal that others consider dangerous. It also would increase fines for repeated violations.

Currently, Burnett said, the county must go to the Animal Matters Hearing Board for permission to remove a dangerous animal against the owner's will, a process that can take months.

Under the proposed law, the county's animal-control administrator or a police officer on the scene could confiscate an animal whether the owner agrees, even if the authorities determined that the animal is just "potentially dangerous." If not, the owner can appeal within seven days.

"We're always going to give people the right to appeal," Burnett said.

The law would eliminate the requirement that animal complaints be made as sworn affidavits. Several speakers have told council members that the requirement makes filing complaints difficult.

"We're just trying to make it easier for citizens," Burnett said.

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