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Austin City Council urged to develop dog control ordinance

Austin City Council members, at the urging of a resident, decided Monday to begin developing a dog control ordinance. Whether or not pit bull terriers would be targeted for a ban remains to be seen.

Council members also discussed possible changes to the city fireworks restrictions.

Mayor Bernie Chamberlain and city council members Laurel Carnes, Anthony Fibel, Tammy Williams, Randy Ryan and Philip Whiting attended the meeting.

Both matters discussed by the council were concerns brought by Austin residents.

Heather Sisk called on the aldermen to consider an animal control ordinance, perhaps including restrictions on Pit Bull Terriers.

Sisk said she brought up the matter because of a large number of what appears to be pit bulls at a nearby residence.

Whiting said he believes an ordinance should be considered, “Before someone gets hurt.”

“There are lots [of ordinances] to model one after,” Whiting said.

Bettis cautioned that the city has no place to hold animals that might be in violation of an ordinance.

Bryant suggested requiring a bond to cover costs should someone be injured.

Fibel said a breed-specific ban might be challenged in court, but other cities had faced the same challenges. “Jacksonville has been through a lawsuit. They would know how to correct it,” he said.

A brief survey of other ordinances showed that Cabot, Jacksonville and Lonoke each ban pit bull terriers.

Cabot’s animal control ordinance prohibits: Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and dogs of mixed breed containing one of the bull terrier breeds.

The ordinance also bans “any dog that has the appearance and characteristics of predominantly of the aforementioned breeds…”

Animal control ordinances at Lonoke and Jacksonville also ban such breeds. At Lonoke, the owner of suspect dog may have DNA testing done to show there is no bull terrier strain in the dog.

Ward’s animal control ordinance does not target a specific breed, instead prohibiting any vicious animal.

Under the ordinance, a vicious animal is one that bites or injures a person or other animal, with the animal control officer making the designation.

A dog owner can appeal the designation in court, but until court decision is made, the dog would be held the city animal shelter.

If an appeal is successful, the owner would be allowed to keep the dog with certain provisions, including a $100,000 bond and restricting the dog to an enclosure with four walls, a floor and a roof.

Carnes made the motion, seconded by Ryan, to have city attorney Greg Crumpton created a draft ordinance for consideration by the council.

In another matter, Chamberlain read aloud a letter from Orchard Estates resident Donna Gipson calling for the council to consider further restrictions on fireworks.

“July 4th this year was out of control in Orchard Estates,” Gipson wrote. Many of the fireworks were “commercial type” and improperly used, causing a fire hazard, “… many of [the fireworks] instead of going up to burst, came sideways into our yards,” she wrote.

Chamberlain pointed out that the current ordinance allows fireworks in the city until 10 p.m. July 3, and 11 p.m. July 4.

Whiting remarked that regardless of restrictions, people who shoot fireworks should, “clean up after themselves.”

Fibel said there is nothing that can be done about the size of the fireworks. “But,” he added, “I think a lot of people forget that it is Independence Day, and it is a celebration of our freedom.

“There are a lot of us that have served to preserve our Constitutional rights. If we are going to celebrate one time a year, we are just going to have to be safe about it.”

In routine matters, chief of police Tony Bryant reported that officers had fielded 28 reports, two motor vehicle collisions, 47 contacts and 30 inter-department assistance calls and issued 24 citations. There was $5,179 in fees collected, with $2,365 going to the city, $2.010 to the justice fund, $140 in court costs, and $655 to the county.

The council also approved repairs to the air conditioning system on the vehicle used by Bryant.

Fire Chief Steve Bettis said all members of the fire department had been re-certified for CPR. The re-certification is done twice a year to ensure the most current information is used, he said.

Public works supervisor John Ryan said wastewater system repairs approved at the June council meeting had been completed.

Also, the city water system had been evaluated in a sanitary survey conducted by Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). “They were real impressed with the improvements made on the water side … they were really happy,” Ryan said.

According to ADEQ, periodic sanitary surveys of water systems require the evaluation of eight critical elements of a public water system and the identification of significant deficiencies (e.g., a well located near a leaking septic system).

Chamberlain announced a fundraising spaghetti dinner, sponsored by the Austin Auxiliary, would be held Aug. 10, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the fire station on Pool Street. All proceeds would go to help meet costs of an Austin resident facing cancer treatments, she said.

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