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Boro talks animal code: Ordinance introduced, set for public hearing

Daily News Staff Writer

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly introduced an ordinance at its Monday meeting that amends animal control code in the borough and set it for public hearing on Dec. 17.

The Assembly was presented with two ordinances, Ordinance 1874 and Ordinance 1874-substitute, that were structurally identical except for a provision relating to animal noise enforcement.

Ordinance 1874, which ultimately passed 6-0, changes current code language to make it easier for the borough to enforce noise violations stemming from loud animals. The substitute amendment would have removed animal noise enforcement from the responsibility altogether.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Ketchikan Police Chief Joe White and Sgt. Grant Miller of the Alaska State Troopers explained that, should the Assembly decide to stop enforcing animal noise code, their law enforcement agencies didn’t have the ability or means to take on that new enforcement responsibility.

White, who also wrote a letter outlining KPD’s position, noted that in addition to not having the statutory means of enforcing animal noise issues, police staffing is “critically low right now.”

“The city has no mechanism currently to enforce these issues, our disorderly conduct (law) is geared toward human noises,” White said. “… And to tell you the truth, our officers are really busy with many other calls that we’re dealing with.

Miller pointed out that, especially at night, AST would not dispatch troopers for animal noise complaints unless it was an emergency.

“If it’s a situation like a dog in a noise complaint, our troopers won’t be called out for that,” Miller said.

A couple other individuals also spoke on the matter during citizen remarks. Ed Zastrow complained about a neighbor who has roosters. He thanked the Assembly for considering more enforceable animal noise code, saying that the animals have a direct effect on his well-being, as he receives income by renting out units.

“The damn things are crowing at sunrise, … and into the evening. Unacceptable and very annoying,” Zastrow said. “… One of my renters (who) has been with me for a long, long time works a split shift. And at 2 a.m. in the morning when he comes home the roosters are crowing, during the summer in particular. This is a major source of my income.”

“If I lose this renter, (who) is an excellent renter, I’ve got a problem,” Zastrow added.

Another individual who lives near Zastrow, Steve McDonald, also spoke to the Assembly about the issues he has with crowing roosters in the area, noting that if the issues continue he “won’t be living there in another year because it’s just that bad.”

At the meeting the Assembly decided to go with the original ordinance revising code to make enforcement of noise violations like those mentioned by Zastrow and McDonald easier.

Current borough code requires that the animal must be making “persistent” noise for 10 minutes straight, a provision that is difficult for animal control officers to measure.

For example, if a dog is barking for five minutes straight after officers arrive and then stops for a minute or two and then starts back up again, that doesn’t necessarily meet the burden under current code for a violation.

The new ordinance, which was passed in first reading, seeks to remedy the difficulty of enforcing code by broadening the language and nixing the 10-minute rule.

“The term ‘excessive noise’ shall mean noise which is unreasonably annoying, disturbing, offensive, or which unreasonably interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property of one or more persons occupying property in the community or neighborhood, within reasonable proximity to the property where the animal or animals are kept,” the ordinance reads.

Borough Animal Control Director Eddie Blackwood was on hand during the meeting to answer Assembly member questions and provide input on the matter. He said that he believed the language in the ordinance would improve his department’s enforcement abilities.

“I do believe the new version of the code would help us in giving the people who (have) issues with noise from animals some relief,” Blackwood told the Assembly. “… I do think that it will help as it redefines the code in a manner which appears to me to be more fair to both parties.”

Blackwood said that he has seen animal noise disputes go to court and, based on current code, the court typically decides in favor of the animal owner. Blackwood said he thought that this new ordinance would make it easier for folks dealing with animal noise issues.

Assembly Member Judith McQuerry wondered if potentially using decibel readers would help animal control. Blackwood responded by pointing out the potential difficulties that come with decibel readings, including thresholds, extraneous noise and location of the reading, among other variables.

Assistant Borough Manager Deanna Thomas also spoke to the Assembly about the choice between the two ordinances. She pointed out the clear response from law enforcement in opposition to the substitute ordinance.

“They're dealing with murderers, they're dealing with sexual assaults; things that are probably of graver consequence,” Thomas said.

Assembly Member Sven Westergard asked about how many calls animal control receives regarding animal noise complaints. Thomas said about an average of two calls per month.

“While it’s not heavy call volume, I will say that when these neighbor disputes happen they are time consuming and often fairly emotionally charged,” Thomas said.

McQuerry asked the opinion of Borough Attorney Glenn Brown, who said that he thinks the new ordinance would help folks who are having issues with noisy animals.

“This standard in the new statue — in the new ordinance rather — really goes to a reasonableness standard and it puts it to the judge to say using a reasonable ordinary person’s standard, ‘Would a rooster crowing for a half hour at 3 a.m. in a residential area night after night strike you as unreasonable?’” Brown said, noting that the language would make it easier for complainants.

The ordinance passed 6-0, with Assembly Member Alan Bailey absent. It will return for a public hearing on Dec. 17.

Also Monday, the Assembly:

    •    Adopted two ordinances related to rezoning.

    •    Adopted an ordinance that amends the fiscal year 2019 budget by appropriating $500,000 from the Land Trust Fund for the purchase of a parcel at Mountain Point.

    •    Heard a report from Superintendent Bob Boyle regarding the Ketchikan School District budget that included numbers on additional monies that are being requested following the passage of a new contract for district teachers.

    •    Heard a report from the borough manager.

    •    Issued a proclamation in honor of Agnes Royer’s 97th birthday. Royer was featured on the KTKN program Fun for Kids as the “story lady” for more than 50 years.

The next Assembly meeting is scheduled for Dec. 17.