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Council rejects cat ordinance

BUCKEYE LAKE – Stray cats wandering into Buckeye Lake Village better have at least six or seven lives left.

Buckeye Lake Village Council members decided not to enact a cat control ordinance proposed by BARK Animal Rescue founder Bonnie Mansfield. Simply put, said council member Jim Bartoe, there’s no practical way for the village to enforce it. Bartoe said members of the village’s public safety committee agree there’s a serious problem with strays in the village, which can live in colonies of up to 25 cats beneath porches and other secluded areas.

Mansfield’s proposal, which is based on an ordinance from Mansfield, Connecticut, coincidentally, requires cat owners to spay or neuter cats six months old or older, unless an owner has a permit not to do so. Impounded cats would also be spayed or neutered.

“There’s no way to prove who owns them,” said Bartoe. He added that the village’s police officers are spread thinly as it is, and he didn’t want them to spend time policing cats when they should be policing people. Bartoe recommended against adopting the cat ordinance and the rest of council agreed.

The issue recently boiled over. According to Buckeye Lake Police Department reports, two neighbors had several verbal disputes about one feeding stray cats. That eventually led to the grandson of the person feeding the strays assaulting the neighbor who was threatening his grandmother. The grandmother believed the threatening neighbor was mistreating the cats, although there is no direct proof of abuse, according to police reports. The neighbor strongly denies mistreating cats, saying the cats were only being trapped and taken to the animal shelter or given to farmers.

“All we have is speculation,” said Jon Luzio, who heads Licking County Animal Control. Luzio said Licking County residents have the right to trap stray cats as long as they are humanely treated. “We hope nobody is abusing any animals,” he said. Luzio suspects the situation may be more a dispute between neighbors, where one is using cats to get the other’s goat, than a case of animal abuse.

The neighbor feeding the cats believes they are being poisoned and said many cats in the neighborhood are “foaming at the mouth” and writhing in pain. Others are dead. Luzio said a disease called distemper, which is common among stray cats, exhibits the same symptoms.

“I don’t know if they will survive, but they are being treated,” said Mansfield, who added that Buckeye Lake veterinarian Doug Poorman saved some of the cats. A PetPlex employee said a cat body is being tested for poison, but no results are available. Mansfield said another veterinarian believes the cats died from insecticide poisoning and the Ohio Department of Agriculture is having one of the cat bodies examined. Again, nothing is determined yet.

Luzio said his department is also testing a cat body; he said preliminary results show the cat died of respiratory failure. His office is also testing “bait food,” but results are pending. Luzio said if people are just feeding strays, they’re not really helping them because the population will explode. The cats may become destructive to their environment and begin to die from disease.

Buckeye Lake Police Captain James Hanzey said Tuesday that his department continues to investigate the case because he received a report of poisoned puppies – not strays – on Elliot Street, which he said may be related. The poisoning does not appear to be accidental. Hanzey was not ready to release the names of any suspects in the case as no formal charges have been pressed.

Teresa Landon, executive director of the Ohio SPCA, urged people to call the local county humane agent, the sheriff’s office, and the local media when animal abuse is suspected. She said Ohio’s animal abuse laws are weak, but need to be used to their fullest when incidents occur.

“Animal abuse is clearly tied to child abuse and domestic violence,” said Landon. She believes stiffer fines and higher jail terms are necessary to stop animal abuse in Ohio. “People would be shocked at how many (cases and types of animal abuse) are done in Ohio,” said Landon. Animal abuse, she said, “may take many forms,” including neglect, poisoning, and a lack of shelter.

In other council news:

• The village probably won’t start EMS billing any time soon, said Buckeye Lake Fire Chief Pete Leindecker. Emergency services bills would be generated when anyone is transported by a Buckeye Lake squad. If the patient lives in the Village of Buckeye Lake, bills would be only sent to their health insurance carrier, Medicare or Medicaid. They would not be billed personally.

All other patients would be billed personally if they don’t have health insurance or qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. However, unpaid bills are not turned over to a collection agency. Hebron Fire Department bills for EMMS transports.

“It’s something we should look at down the road, but don’t just jump into it,” said Leindecker. It could be a disadvantage to the village, he said, because currently Licking Memorial Hospital exchanges items like sheets and other supplies with the department for free. With EMS billing in place, the hospital would no longer offer that service.

• The new condominiums near the North Shore Boat Ramp – a waterfront community by McAnally Companies – will receive public water when the rest of the village does, said Foster. Several residents suspected the condos were receiving public water from Licking County because public water lines were very recently installed. Foster said the water lines were buried to the building sites in anticipation of the village’s pending public water system, but the property will operate on private water wells until the village system is finished. The village is in the process of designing a public water distribution system supplied by Millersport’s new water treatment facility.

• As of June 30, 2009, no one in the Village of Buckeye Lake will be allowed to drill a new water well without a permit. The measure is necessary for the village to receive an Ohio Public Works Commission grant toward the village’s pending public water system. “To get the grants, we have to have something in effect,” said Council Clerk Tim Matheny.

Foster said the goal is to stop those who are building new structures from drilling a well shortly before the public water system is installed simply to avoid tying onto it. “Obviously, if a well is needed, it will be granted,” he said. “The intention is not to hurt people with this.”

Bartoe voted against the measure, believing it is too restrictive.

• As a formality necessary to apply for grants, council passed an ordinance that roughly outlines potential water bills for Buckeye Lake residents. Director of Development Valerie Hans was clear that the totals listed in the ordinance are significantly higher than what she expects the actual water bills to be; the totals in the ordinance do not take into account grants and reduced interest or no interest loans expected to be available for the public water system. According to the ordinance, residents may expect to pay a $42 per month minimum for 1,500 gallons of water per month. Residents would pay $5.25 per months extra for each additional 1,000 gallons of water used beyond 1,500 gallons.

• Foster said 160 tons of gravel will be dumped at the Buckeye Lake Fire Department to create a parking lot on recently acquired land next to the station. Previously, the county’s floodplain administrator said the the 119 feet by 320 feet, $26,000 property could not be filled since it is in a flood plain. The lot is two to three feet below the fire station grade. The gravel and some excavation work are expected to cost $3,500. Foster said some of the labor will be donated. “I think it’s a good plan,” he said.

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