Mayor: No lethal force on stray cats

By on February 6, 2013

By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Like many borough’s, Ephrata may have a problem with feral cats.

But Mayor Ralph Mowen made it clear at Monday night’s borough council meeting: giving the police the ability to use lethal force in an effort to deal with that problem would not happen if he had anything to say about the issue.

"I will tell you right now it’s D.O.A," said Mowen with regard to a possible feral cat ordinance. "There ‘ain’t’ no way this mayor would sign that ordinance. I would not authorize our officers to shoot cats in someone’s yard. That (ordinance) needs to be completely revised. With such a provision it will not ever get my signature."

Borough Manager Bob Thompson made it clear that at this time there is no draft ordinance pending which would give police such power. He did, however, confirm that such a matter was still in committee and that various solutions would be considered to address the problem.

Council does have the ability to over-ride a mayoral veto of an ordinance. In turn, the Mayor can then issue what would amount to an executive order forbidding police from using lethal force on feral cats with perhaps some exceptions based on a given situation. But as a means of controlling the feral cat population, Mowen was clear on his position.

The issue of feral cats in the borough was first raised by local resident Carl Gregson in November 2011. It has been unclear whether the problem was indeed feral cats or residents feeding stray cats. At the time, Gregson questioned whether or not the borough had an ordinance which might address what he felt was a growing problem.

When Gregson raised the issue, he said that he did not want to "rock the boat" with those who might be feeding stray cats, but pointed out that he feels the population is on the rise. And he asked that council look into the matter further.

"The problem is with 10 to 15 cats waiting around at all times looking to be fed," said Gregson in 2011. "I think it would help if there were some way to discourage people from feeding them."

In looking at the problem currently, there is some viewpoint that care of the cats wandering the streets of Ephrata could become the problem of whomever is feeding them.

In 2011, Police Chief William Harvey seemed to agree that something might need to be done, but pointed out that currently there are some limitations on what could be done.

"By law, we are only obligated to deal with dogs," said Harvey. "Now with feral cats that could be creating a public health hazard."

Harvey added that regardless of good intentions, those feeding cats actually take on the role of guardian for the animals, creating an environment where the cats will keep coming back.

Gregson suggested that awareness could be created by including a piece in the borough newsletter.

Council member Tom Reinhold has been sympathetic to Gregson’s plight.

"I have the same situation as you do (in my neighborhood), said Reinhold on the issue in 2011. "We have one neighbor who is feeding quite a few cats and it is just growing. For those who are conscientious about it, they may stop if there were something in the newsletter about it.

Work on the issue will continue at the committee level. In the mean time, residents are urged to not feed stray cats.

In other borough council news, Development Activities Committee Chair Susan Rowe reported to council on a number of items which will be voted on during the consent agenda at next week’s meeting. Council will be asked to approve the final land development plans for a proposed Keystone Villa congregate care facility to be located at 100 North State Street. Plans call for portions of the former Artworks At Doneckers to be demolished, some portions to be retained and renovated, while some new construction will also be made. Council’s approval next Monday would move along plans for what will ultimately be a project slated for completion in July, 2014.

Council will also vote to approve new signage at the Ephrata Public Library for the new USPS substation which was relocated to the library, from the former Galen’s of Ephrata location. Two separate signs, one 8×3 would be illuminated while the other (6×2) would not be. Adding this signage is a requirement of the US Postal Service for such locations.

Rowe noted that council will also be asked to approve the awarding of a contract to Thomas Comitta and Associates in the amount of $49,000 to begin work on the 2020 comprehensive strategic plan. It was noted that three proposals were received: one at $29,000, Comitta’s at $49,000 and one other at $73,000. While the Committa proposal is not the lowest and is currently $4,000 over the budgeted amount, members of council felt a level of comfort in awarding the contract to Comitta, since he had overseen the previous comprehensive strategic plan.

"With one estimate being for $29,000 and one for $73,000, what were the overwhelming factors on the decision," questioned council member Anthony Kilkuskie. "This must have been an overwhelmingly favorable decision to spend $20,000 more than the lowest proposal."

Thompson explained that the lower bid did not include the cost of working out any changes to the plan based on public opinion. He also explained that it was not uncommon that one proposal be significantly lower than others. The lower bid, he believed, could reflect a lack of experience in areas where the borough was requesting their services for. His concern was that the project would get half or three-quarters of the way through the project and would either force the lower priced vendor to significantly cut costs and perhaps the scope of the work in order to made budget, or come back with add-ons later.

"Our staff recognized that while the lower priced firm was not brand new but actually have esteemed colleagues working on either side internally or externally with them in the past," added Thompson. "We recognized they have little experience with urbanized municipalities. They have worked with townships but they are unfamiliar with our setting."

Thompson also pointed out that since Comitta and Associates had completed the prior plan, they were already familiar with Ephrata Borough and would already have completed much of the preliminary groundwork so that they could hit the ground running. This would allow them to deliver on a more aggressive approach to completing the work under budget and on time.

With regard to the $4,000 over budget, Rowe said her committee would be working with Comitta to find ways of cutting costs in order to have the final project come in on budget.

On a separate matter, Rowe reported back to council on concerns raised by a citizen requesting clarification on two areas of the 2009 International Property Maintenance Code which was recently adopted.

"Although invited to attend the Public Safety committee meeting, the citizen was a no show," noted Rowe. "While I requested this citizen be given a copy of staff’s responses to his concerns, I want to share them publicly for others that may have been confused by the concerns raised."

According to Rowe’s statement, the first concern was that smoke detectors are required to be equipped with a 10-year lithium-ion battery. She clarified that there is no requirement for the type of battery.

"The number of smoke detectors in all dwellings IS being upgraded; that information will soon be on the Borough website, added Rowe. "Any work to a dwelling that requires a building permit is required to upgrade the number of smoke detectors — this is no different than the previous 2006 code."

The second concern regarded tamper-resistant receptacles.

"There is NO requirement in the 2009 International Property Maintenance Code for tamper-resistant receptacles," explained Rowe. "However, the National Fire Protection Association required tamper-resistant receptacles in new construction and renovated dwellings. That requirement became effective on Dec. 31, 2009 in the state of Pennsylvania."

In general comments, board member Vic Richard made council aware of a contribution made in lieu of real estate taxes which had been made for the second straight year by the Ephrata Re-uzit Shop located on Main Street. This year it made a contribution of $4,000; they made a similar $5,000 contribution last year.

"This is the only such organization to date to do this," commented Richard. "We appreciate the services provided to the community through this non-profit group. For them to do this is quite exemplary."

Police Chief William Harvey alerted council that a $1,000 reward has now been offered in regard to a string of recent daytime forced entry burglaries in the area of Highland Avenue and Chestnut Street.

Council member Tom Reinhold noted his appreciation for the excellent work of the Ephrata Police Department with regard to the break-ins.

"We take for granted the police force but when the crimes happen so close to home you gain a special appreciation for them," commented Reinhold. "These were very close to my house. Some of the neighbors were extremely impressed with the police response. They have expressed their gratitude for what has been done and we know it is only a matter of time till the individual or individuals are caught. I just want to encourage residents: Please, if you see anything suspicious take note and make your comments known. Please call the police."

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