Missoula Animal Control stretched thin

dog leashMissoula’s dog leash laws are still taking shape, and the draft hasn’t yet hit the desks of Missoula City Council members.

One thing’s already clear, though, at least to Councilwoman Marilyn Marler.

“Overall, we need more personnel on animal control or more tickets being written,” Marler said. “That’s not just specific to open space. It’s something we hear a lot of people saying in general.”

Animal Control is part of the Missoula City-County Health Department, and environmental health director Jim Carlson said adding animal control officers is under consideration.

“That would be an issue that would need to be addressed,” Carlson said. “If there’s more responsibility given to Animal Control from the city, the city will need to fund those responsibilities.”

City communications director Ginny Merriam agrees enforcement is an issue but said adding more employees isn’t a question for the city.

“The city doesn’t have the money to hire more of anybody,” Merriam said. “We have positions that are dark.”

In the meantime, it seems dogs definitely have the upper paw. (Sorry, sorry.) Animal Control director Ed Franceschina counts four total officers for the entire county, and if things are going well, he’s got three on duty at any given time.

He counts some 12,000 licensed dogs in the county and another 20,000 unregistered canines. Nevermind guinea pigs, cats and gerbils.

— Keila Szpaller

The magic calculator

Check this out: http://maps.ci.missoula.mt.us/special/.

If you go there and plug in your name or address — or geocode or legal description — the calculator tells you how much you’ll pay in the current fiscal year for the parks and streets districts.

I’m in for about five bucks. I gotta honey and we’re together paying $10.07. Neat tool. I think it’s all still an estimate, but there you have it.

— Keila Szpaller

The sucker and the Oxburger

You’ve heard of the “Real Change, Not Spare Change,” campaign right? Well, do you know about the “Real Burger” initiative?

When I heard Michael Van Riper was sitting on the curb near the Oxford on Friday, I skipped over to talk with him about this story and his get-out-of-jail-free card.

“Are you Michael Van Riper?”

“What’d I do this time?”

I told him I wanted him to talk with me for the story, but I wasn’t going to pay him for an interview. I’ve had some street folks talk with me and then insist I give them money and get nasty when I refuse.

It’s not that I’m cleaving to that real change idea, it’s that we’re not paying people for interviews, and no one gets to demand money afterward. (If you expect it, you ask for it up front. And get told no up front.)

Well, Van Riper agreed. And man, can he talk. At the end of the interview, he shakes my hand, and holds onto it.

“How about a beer?”

I say no.

He still hangs on.

“A sandwich?”

A sandwich? Well, I totally folded.

I don’t wanna be taken for a sucker, but the dude’s got some stuff wrong with his feet, he can’t breathe, there’s no way he’s gonna be able to make himself a sandwich, and even if he collected enough money to buy one, he might not make it far into a sandwich shop being that much of a mess, dirty and belligerent and all.

I head back to work. Scrub my hands in the bathroom with maybe a gallon of soap. Add his comments to the story. Briefly and lamely consider leaving Van Riper sandwichless ’cause I’m late for my own Friday festivities and probably that’s what he expects anyway, right? (I know. Super lame.) Realize I can’t pretend to justify away the fact that I told the dude I’d buy him a sandwich, so I show up to take his order.

There he is, right under the tree on Pine Street where I told him to wait ’cause I wasn’t going to chase him all over town to deliver him a sammy.

He wants an Oxburger. When I order it at the counter, some dude tells me they’re the best burgers in town.

Well, good for Van Riper. He was just persistent and savvy enough to make a sucker out of me. Still, I think the Real Burger initiative is gonna be a onetime thing.

— Keila Szpaller

UM Vice President Foley “refudiates”

Here’s UM Executive Vice President Jim Foley on the long wait alerting people to the emergency on the University of Montana campus:

When asked about the delay, UM Executive Vice President Jim Foley said that “all appropriate authorities – meaning the city police, the sheriff’s office, public safety, and administrators at U of M – we gathered together to make risk assessments and decisions related to emergency response notifications and investigation of any threat. Those processes were followed in this case, and from the law enforcement standpoint, the investigation will continue.”

I think that’s refudiating the question.

— Keila Szpaller

New taxes? Mixed bag.

Well, let’s start out by saying this is perhaps the smallest sample population ever. But here you go anyway, and take it for what it’s worth.

City Clerk Marty Rehbein has 13 emails* and one written comment on the special districts. She reviewed the comments over the phone, and it seems like it’s a mixed bag.

One guy described the districts as “special taxing districts,” and then went on to say something like, “I admit I’m ambivalent on STDs.” Oops. But aren’t we all?

Overall, four looked like certain NOs; seven looked like certain YESes; one read like it was leaning toward NO; one was hard to decipher; and another was in favor of the idea — but NOT without an offset in the general tax levy.

Almost everyone who showed up last week was against them. My story noted that Councilwoman Pam Walzer had seen a lot of written comments to the contrary, and Linda Frey asked if I was at the same meeting she was at.

Here’s a copy and paste of that exchange, and how sometimes I get info from The Communicator by email after I leave meetings. (That’s city communications director Ginny Merriam.)

(Nope, conspirator hopefuls, no exchanges with council folks or the mayor. Yep, one reason The Communicator sits in on those meetings is to c-o-m-m-u-n-i-c-a-t-e stuff that happens after reporters leave, like votes, and whether it was resolution No. 1 or 2 that was adopted.)

As for the meeting tonight, I think these things sometimes go in waves. Like, the opponents of something show up at one meeting, and then other side is like, shoot, we’ve got to show up too, so then PROponents turn out for a subsequent hearing.

So I’m thinking a couple more of those people who are in favor of the districts will be there tonight. But maybe everyone will just talk about their favorite beach on the Blackfoot River and we can all go for a swim.

Call me a rocket scientist, but we probably won’t really know how many people are in favor or opposed until a resolution is approved and the protest period runs its course.

— Keila Szpaller

“Special” chickens district, anyone?

ChickenDiaper-334x345Missoula prides itself on an outdoorsy aesthetic and gorgeous mountain views, and maybe it’s time the urban chickens establish themselves as part of the local beauty scene.

The chickens, important little buggers both making and becoming food, have the right to look as sharp as anyone else in this town. My editor left a copy of the July 8 Wall Street Journal on my desk and it’s been sitting here ever since, crying out with a story about a woman in Arkansas who sews chicken diapers.

Missoula must meet the chicken diaper, the paper seemed to say from the clutter on the desk. Finally, here you go, if you haven’t seen it yet.

That picture above is from the company website, chickendiapers.com. Ruth Haldeman sews diapers for indoor chickens, and she creates complete outfits, too. Check out the Journal story for some pictures of a summer dress and a patriotic one.

I’ve got to say that all the chickens I’ve seen around town have been sadly under-dressed and fashion-formulaic. Feathers, feathers and more feathers.

So these new special districts? Maybe we can have one that helps clothe the hens roaming about au naturel. It’d be cheaper than the road district if that one does go toward right-of-way acquisition later on.

Chicken diapers run $9 to $14, depending on the size, per the WSJ. And per Animal Control’s last report, we don’t have tons of hens in Missoula.

Want to learn more about the special districts? Check out the Q&A available on the city website. Honest Abe — and someone has already made fun of me for using that phrase so don’t bother going there — the site talks about the council having the power to raise or lower the charge.

Lowering? Long shot. There might be a better chance of setting up that chickens district.

We’ll hear more tonight at the meeting of the Missoula City Council. Just heard from the City Clerk on the comments that have come in so far about the districts. More in another post.

— Keila Szpaller

Nuggets. Chapter 1. Parks.

I have a file full of budget stuff. Some of it is interesting and pertinent in some way to this year’s budget talks, but maybe the info didn’t fit into a story. Or will later. Meantime, I’m just going to post some of those tidbits up here periodically.

This one’s a neat chart that’s part of the Parks Department Budget. It’s called “workload indicators.” It’s quite general, and parks people say the numbers are estimates. Still, they’re pretty interesting.

Here’s a couple:

Number of lights maintained: 362

No. of athletic fields maintained: 27

No. of playgrounds maintained: 33

No. of developed park acres per employee: 24

No. of irrigation systems maintained: 100 (Wow!)

No. of trees pruned: 478

No. of trailheads maintained: 45

Miles of conservation trail maintained: 45

Acres of turf maintained: 530

That’s not all, and that’s what’s proposed for this current fiscal year, 2011. Most of the numbers are pretty similar if not identical to the actual numbers in 2010. See the entire list here, second-to-last page.

— Keila Szpaller

Extra “special”

First, the important news: It sounds like the mayor is going to ask that the public hearing on creating special districts be set for Sept. 13.

Secondly, um, I’m just going to confess I blew up at Lee Clemmensen in Council Chambers. Oh dear.

When other people have meltdowns in Chambers, I write about them, so for the record, this time, the testiness came from the silent “fly on the wall.” Oops. Fly got mad.

A while back, maybe a couple years, I was talking with Clemmensen in her home. A car key fell out of my pocket onto the floor, and it doesn’t look like a car key. It’s like a little black box, and Clemmensen thought it was a recorder.

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A “special” meeting

Did you try the rub? Not yet? That’s alright. There’s time.

So let’s get back to this week’s meeting of the Missoula City Council. By the way, those folks will get together this afternoon to talk “special districts” again, and it should be interesting to see if the discussion is constructive.

One cool thing about Monday’s meeting is the dozen or so people who showed up to comment. The last few years, you could have heard a flea fart when the Mayor John Engen called for comment on the budget. Silence.

Not Monday, though. There was even a smattering of applause, which the mayor doesn’t like ’cause people are supposed to stay orderly, but it does show you the way some folks are feeling about things.

The clapping came after Linda Frey spoke, and she slammed the administration for fiscal irresponsibility, naming SIDs, cost overruns on pools, the Play Ball deal, and probably some other things.

“You are driving out the middle classes, the retired and the young,” Frey said. “Is that the city you want to create?”

That’s when Trish Auras in the audience broke into applause.

Frey also said the cap on property taxes was put there for a reason — ’cause voters want it there. The special districts circumvent the cap, she said, especially since growth has been negative.

“This resolution may be technically legal, but it clearly violates the will of the voters,” Frey said.

John Dilley said it’s no surprise the city doesn’t have enough money. It sequesters money in urban renewal districts, gifts dollars to private enterprises, and even wastes water and leaves on lights along the riverfront trail even in broad daylight.

“This administration says it doesn’t have enough money,” Dilley said. “Well, of course it doesn’t have enough.”

Those weren’t the only comments in opposition, but I bet you’ll hear something different next week. I’m thinking those folks who support the districts will show up strong next Monday.

— Keila Szpaller