WALLOWA — The Wallowa City Council is one step closer to baring the teeth in its city animal ordinance after a special meeting Tuesday, Aug. 25, in which it voted to authorize the Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office or a city official to issue a citation.
The council has been particularly concerned that its ordinance limiting the number of animals allowed on any particular parcel is being ignored.
City Recorder Carolyn Harshfield said past procedure has been to leave a “door hanger” on the property of city residents in violation of an ordinance, but the city has had little recourse if the violation isn’t corrected.
“It’s been an ongoing problem,” Mayor Gary Hulse said.
The special meeting was called to confer with city Attorney Roland Johnson about the legal requirements of issuing and prosecuting a citation. He explained that circuit and municipal courts have jurisdiction over ordinance violations and state law grants a city attorney authority to prosecute in circuit court in the name of a city.
As for issuing the citation, Johnson said, that’s another matter.
“We do not have a police department,” he said. “Typically, a police department would serve a uniform citation because the city is the plaintiff, not the state or any other city. That (citation) would be served and then filed with the circuit court.”
Such a violation would be an “unclassified misdemeanor,” that could be enforced with a fine and/or jail time, Johnson said. He said the citation must be hand-delivered.
“That’s where it’d be nice to have a law enforcement officer do it because it’s normally part of their responsibility,” Hulse said. “But if they’re unable to, we need to have somebody designated to do so.”
Johnson advised against authorizing city council members to issue the citations.
“You’re a policy-making body,” he said, adding that they also should not be the ones to decide if each case deserved prosecution.
“The council passed the ordinance and if you don’t like it, you can change it but not the decision to prosecute,” he said.
Therefore, the council agreed to ask the sheriff’s office if a deputy could be the issuing officer. If not, a city department supervisor — Harshfield or Travis Goebel, superintendent of public works — would be authorized.
The council also agreed the mayor and Harshfield could be the ones who go to the site of an alleged violation to determine if it merits a citation.
Fines for violating the animal ordinance range from $25 to $100 per incident— not per animal, per day, as was previously speculated. Each day would represent an individual incident.
This led to discussion of the cost to the city of such prosecutions.
Johnson said he generally charges about $200 an hour and it would likely take five to 10 hours of work to prosecute a case, meaning $1,000 to $2,000 per case.
“It’s not going to be cheap for the city,” he said.
Councilman Christian Niece asked if the council could budget a certain dollar amount to limit the expenses.
“I think we just need to go on a case-by-case basis,” Hulse said.
“You need to have the budget authorization to spend what’s necessary,” he said. “If you think about it, look what you’ve budgeted for the city attorney before and come up with a recommendation as to an amount.”
Johnson said the cost should be deemed necessary.
“In my judgment, if you’re going to enforce your ordinance and people choose to ignore you, you’re going to have to proceed with enforcement proceedings so people understand that it is not optional,” he said. “With animal cases, they have options to come down and file for a formal permit and propose ways to mitigate the impact on adjacent property owners. You’re not required to grant it, but you can make the judgment on that.”
The mayor agreed the expenditure was worth it.
“I think once you prosecute one or two people, it’s going to stop,” Hulse said. “Most people will pay attention when we do send them a notice that they are in violation of the ordinance. But right now, we’re at the point where people are able to ignore it knowing we don’t have any legal ramifications.”