Board Hears Strong Feelings About Community's Pets
Police Chief Erickson responded to disgruntled community members.
Animal control was the hot topic Monday at Morton Grove's village board meeting.
The board heard an address from Police Chief Mark Erickson, who responded to complaints from residents who are unhappy with the city's animal control services, which have been severely scaled back in the financial pinch of recent years.
At the heart of the controversy is an e-mail that urged pet owners to contact the board and the police department with their complaints. The message alleged:
- That Morton Grove had abandoned its commitment to lost animals.
- That the police weren't taking down contact information from people who had found strays
- That police officers weren't adequately trained to handle animal control
- That the village should take custody of animals in some cases
"I understand the responsibilities of being a pet owner," said Erickson, who had dogs while his children were growing up. "Some of these statements are inaccurate, but in the areas where we did fail, we're trying to correct those."
Erickson categorized the decrease in services as a necessary evil of the Great Recession—one of many that claimed the jobs of a police officer, a firefighter, a human resources manager, a social worker, six crossing guards and other cuts across the village
"Like everybody else across America, this Board wrestled with some very complex decisions," Erickson said. "It was a struggle, and it was painful."
Erickson said the police department is currently collecting strays and injured animals, citing the owners and transporting the pets to an animal hospital. However, the police department lacks both the manpower and the facilities to house the animals.
"We are busting at the seams as the Board well knows as far as the police department is concerned," Erickson said. "We are not talking about trivial expenditures. The time constraints on this police department are greater than they ever were before."
Erickson suggested that, in a time of cutbacks across the board, more of the responsibilities should fall on owners themselves. He mentioned some ideas for dealing with the issue of decreased animal control:
- Pictures on the web of lost and found pets
- Volunteers to house pets until they can be claimed
- Increase of fines for violations
- Annual registration fee for pets
Some residents weren't mollified, even after Erickson's response.
"This your-on-your-own policy is appalling," said Marianne Maggi, a Morton Grove resident who works for Skokie's animal control department. Maggi said she sometimes fields calls from people who live in Morton Grove. "Residents think that because Skokie is right next door, we can pick up where Morton Grove is leaving off."
Anna Johnson, a Morton Grove resident who manages Chicago Canine Rescue, told a story about finding a paralyzed cat on the sidewalk while she was walking her dogs. Johnson said when she called the police department, she was told to leave the animal where it was. She didn't, and instead had the feline euthanized at her expense.
"If that's what we call animal control, I think we have some problems here," Johnson said.
Still, Erickson found support from some.
"They're not pets; they're part of your family," Trustee Maria Toth said. "But I do think it starts in the home."
Toth encouraged pet owners to be strict about leash use, closing doors and gates, and even getting microchips implanted in their animals.
The Board also heard a presentation about Taxed Increment Financing (TIF) from the village's administration, who appeared before the Golf District 67 Board of Education on Thursday with the same information. A PDF file of the presentation can be found to the right of this story. The TIF aims to solve some of the District's financial dilemmas by consolidating Hynes Elementary and Golf Middle School,just as Park View District 70 did some 20 years ago.
"So what we're trying to do is save this school," Trustee John Thill said. "If this school district goes down, it's a black mark on our community."
The Board voted unanimously to begin preliminary steps in the negotiation of the TIF. District 67 will hold two community forums—at 7 p.m. on Jan. 27 and Feb. 10—at the Richard T. Flickinger Municipal Center (6101 Capulina Ave.) for residents to ask questions and give advice about the proposed TIF.
In other business, Niles Trustee Mark Collins presented a plaque to the Board commemorating the life of former Mayor Daniel Scanlon, who died in November. The plaque described Scanlon as a hero who "performed his duties faithfully, with dignity and honor." Scanlon was a WWII veteran who fought at the Battle of the Bulge and earned a Bronze Star. Trustee Larry Gromberg thanked Collins for his appearance and said the plaque would be given to Scanlon's family.