By Doug Ireland
---- — DANVILLE — Only two months before voters choose an animal control officer, selectmen are looking to eliminate the position.
But that doesn’t mean the town will go to the dogs, according to Selectmen’s Chairman Shawn O’Neil.
Danville would still contract with Plaistow for animal control services if selectmen eliminate the post.
Danville has relied on Plaistow since selectmen eliminated the town’s part-time post in 2011, leaving seven-year animal control officer Sheila Johannesen without a job. Johannsen claimed O’Neil had a “personal vendetta” against her, which he denied. O’Neil said the town would save thousands of dollars a year by contracting out for animal control services.
Johannsen fought back, proposing a citizen petition last year that called for the position’s reinstatement. Residents voted, 418-263, in March to restore the elected office.
Johannesen said she plans to run for the job, but O’Neil said selectmen have finalized a warrant article for the town ballot that would eliminate the position.
“The townspeople spoke very clearly that they wanted the post to stay an elected position,” Johannesen said.
O’Neil said cutting the elected office is still in the town’s best interest because of the cost savings. But Johannesen said if Danville doesn’t have its own animal control officer, it would miss out on thousands of dollars in dog licensing fees and fines.
The town has budgeted $3,420 for this year, after allocating $6,500 a year ago and not spending the full amount, O’Neil said. That compares to Johannesen’s part-time salary of $11,300 in 2011 that was later reduced to a $7,500 stipend. She earned about $9,300 in 2010.
“The budget was reduced well over 70 to 80 percent from when she was doing it,” O’Neil said.
Johannesen and O’Neil often clashed over the animal control budget. The warrant article approved last year does not stipulate how much the animal control officer would be paid.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” O’Neil said.
He said contracting out means the town doesn’t have to fund certain employee expenses, such as workers’ compensation, or pay to operate an animal control vehicle.
Plaistow’s animal control officer, Brian Farrell, is also a certified police officer, according to O’Neil and fellow Selectman Michelle Cooper.
Cooper, who is also a part-time Danville police officer, said an officer can draft arrest warrants and complaints while an animal control officer cannot. A police officer can put down an injured animal, but an animal control officer doesn’t have that authority, Cooper said.
O’Neil has said the animal control budget soared when Johannesen worked for the town, partly because she was responding to wildlife calls the state Fish and Game Department should have handled. Those included calls involving raccoons and skunks.
Cooper said contracting out is more feasible than hiring an animal control officer.
“We did that and it didn’t work,” she said.
But Johannesen accuses Cooper of opposing the elected position because she served citations to her when Cooper’s dogs ran loose. She also said Cooper has a conflict of interest because she works for the police department.
Cooper confirmed that Johannesen cited her, but denied the other allegations.
“That’s her — trying to cause drama,” Cooper said.