Cole County panel considers leash law

The Cole County Commission have asked County Attorney Jill LaHue to draft an ordinance establishing a county leash law in the wake of a complaint about unleashed dogs in urbanized areas.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Terree and Robert Hamilton, who live just inside the St. Martins city limits, told commissioners that a new neighbor who lives outside the city limits has let his dogs run freely and onto the Hamiltons’ property.

“When we’ve had problems, we’ve called the sheriff’s department. And they have been very good about coming out and trying to do what they can,” Terree said. “My kids feel threatened and think the dogs could turn on them at any time.

“If I feel threatened by a person, I could get a restraining order,” he said. “But I don’t know what I can do in this situation.”

Sheriff Greg White said St. Martins does have a leash law, but unlike other towns such as Russellville, there is no contract with his department to pick up stray dogs and take them to the Jefferson City Animal Shelter.

He said Russellville pays the department $100 per dog that’s picked up.

Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger said the challenge of a county leash law would be enforcing it. He also said the county had looked to see if county zoning could help, but learned the issue was more in the realm of municipalities and incorporated areas to regulate.

Ellinger told the Hamiltons they should address their concerns with the St. Martin’s City Council since it appears there is a law on their books they aren’t enforcing.

White said Annie McGrail, the county’s animal control officer, can only get involved and take action in the unincorporated areas is if someone is bitten and the bite breaks the skin.

If commissioners do plan on expanding leash laws, White said, they would have to look at adding personnel to handle the additional work. He noted McGrail has the highest call volume of any sheriff’s deputy.

Only the Westview Heights area, considered the most densely populated area in the county, has a leash law — it was approved by the commission in 1990 after 75 percent of homeowners signed a petition to get it.

That law requires dogs in the area to stay on the owner’s property or be on a leash and they must have proper identification. If the dog doesn’t have that identification, it can be picked up and taken to the Jefferson City Animal Shelter where the owner can pay a fee to pick up their animal.

In other commission action Wednesday, commissioners formally signed the agreement to continue contracting with the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce for economic development.

The contract calls for the county to pay the chamber $150,000.

In May, commissioners had questioned the success of the chamber in providing economic services outside the Jefferson City limits. But after a closed session discussion with chamber leaders, commissioners said their concerns were addressed and most of the problems lay with getting better communication from the chamber about their progress on economic issues.

Also Wednesday, commissioners approved a contract with Architects Alliance for work on a new facility to be placed where the old county jail and sheriff’s house currently are located.

Under the the contract, Ellinger said, the commission can stop work at any time if they reach or surpass the $2.5 million financial threshold they’ve set for the work.

The project is budgeted at just over $2 million.

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