Agreement leaves animal control position unfilled

The borough will not fill the animal control officer position for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The position was left vacant when Kristy Sturges resigned last month following an investigation into the mishandling of an animal abuse case. RA ARCHIVENAUGATUCK — The animal control officer position left vacant by the recent resignation of Kristy Sturges will not be filled until June 30, 2012.

According to Mayor Robert Mezzo, the borough is required to maintain an animal control officer by state law.

“Almost all animal control functions are governed by state statute,” Mezzo said.

Rather than fill the position, borough officials have reached an agreement that will allow the police department to handle the position’s duties.

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses approved the agreement with the Chapter 90 union, which represents the position, Tuesday night.
The agreement allows the borough to appoint the police chief or his designee as animal control officer on temporary basis, according to Mezzo, instead of filling the position.

In exchange, the borough will fund a $5,000 stipend to the police department to assist with administrative costs of running the animal control facility.

The agreement will allow the borough to analyze its long term plans for the department, plus save money in this year’s budget, Mezzo said.

The animal control officer is a $30,000 position. The board already voted to take $25,000 out of the animal control line item in the budget for coming fiscal year.

The changes in the animal control office are the result of recent upheaval due to an investigation into the mishandling of an animal cruelty case. In addition to Sturges’ resignation, Adrienne Croce, another part-time officer, was fired last month. With several other positions in the department open, the police department took over the facility.

Right now, Capt. Jerry Scully of the Naugatuck Police Department is in charge of day-to-day operations at the animal control facility, according to Naugatuck police spokesperson Lt. Robert Harrison.

The facility’s only remaining part-time employee, Marilyn Weid, is currently on vacation, but has come down to the facility several times to feed the animals and clean the facility, Harrison said.

“I know Marilyn’s been a team player,” he said.

Harrison said the department is still in the process of hiring four part-time animal control officers. The department has already had interviews and is offering four candidates conditional offers of employment pending background investigations.

“That hopefully will relieve the current emergency staff shortages we have down there,” Harrison said.

He said training the new hires shouldn’t take long. Once that happens, the borough and Police Chief Christopher Edson are going to look at the restructuring of the animal control staffing, Harrison said. The restructuring will put in place a clearly defined chain of command.

“A review will take place of day-to-day operations so we won’t wind up in the same situation we’ve had in the past,” Harrison said.

Although all options are open for discussion, Mezzo said he plans to look into whether the police could handle the position permanently or if any regional partners might be able to work with Naugatuck on animal control.

Mezzo said many Connecticut towns face the same animal control problems as Naugatuck. He said the borough is constantly challenged by an abundance of stray cats that are inexplicably abandoned or left in neighborhoods. The municipality’s mandated job is to protect people and pets from stray animals, Mezzo said.

“As an animal lover it’s sometimes hard to not want to help stray animals of any kind find good homes, but as the executive of the municipality, we have to consider what we’re required to do by state law and the resources we have to do so,” Mezzo said.