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Select Board tackles stray cat control, committees, survey

By Susan Mustapich | Sep 16, 2020

CAMDEN — Select Board members sorted out confusion over animal control rules for stray cats and discussed changes to town committees and a voter survey at the Sept. 15 meeting.

Stray and feral cat control

Shelley Butler, Executive Director of the PAWS shelter and adoption center was invited to explain PAWS practices and answer questions regarding stray cats brought in to the shelter by the town.

Town Manager Audra Caler said there had been discussions about the town's animal control not picking up stray cats. There was also confusion about the high cost of veterinary care for a cat dropped off at the shelter years ago.

State law requires all municipalities to contract with a shelter to accept animals, Caler said, and Camden contracts with PAWS.

The town has to have rules in place about how Camden handles cats in the community, she said.

Select Board member Jenna Lookner said she gets questions from people all the time about what to do with cats. At a previous meeting, Lookner brought up the issue of finding an injured cat in her driveway that was hit by a car and was unable to get the town's animal control officer to pick the cat up.

Butler said the shelter has a contract with the town of Camden and accepts all strays and at-large animals from citizens and the municipality.

Camden's animal control officer or police department is designated to bring animals to PAWS 24/7, Butler said. The shelter has a special code for the town of Camden to provide access to the intake area whenever it is needed, she said.

Butler said she spoke to Police Chief Randy Gagne about a month ago and went over the contract in place since she has been at PAWS. She said that contract has probably  not changed in the past 10 years.

“My understanding is there was a personal preference not to go out to help cats.” That is how it was explained to her, but that’s not how the contract reads, she said.

Caler said that after discussions with Gagne and Butler, the decision has been made for the animal control officer to take a bigger role in bringing cats to the shelter if that is what people need.

Board Vice Chairwoman Alison McKellar is in favor of the animal control officer addressing cats, for the welfare of the cats and to avoid having unvaccinated animals running around in the community. She is also concerned about the detrimental affect cats have on the environment in terms of killing native song birds.

Board member Marc Ratner asks about costs for veterinarian care.

Butler explained that the contract with Camden does not involve PAWS charging the town for care. It states that the municipalities must obtain appropriate veterinarian care for injured or ill animals prior to taking them to the animal shelter.

If the town picks up an animal that is still alive, but injured, it is the town’s responsibility to take it to a veterinary practice or emergency clinic at the town’s expense, Butler explained. The highest bill she has seen was about $500.

Committee structure and citizen participation

Select Board Chairman Bob Falciani introduced a discussion about reexamining committee structure to identify and encourage more community participation.

The Board usually reviews and makes committee assignments annually based on volunteer participation forms that community members fill out. This usually takes place in July or August, but did not happen this year.

Falciani mentioned work the Board has done in past years, reviewing committee workplans and guidelines, and areas where the Board needs committees' help.

Caler said the COVID-19 shut down led to months of limiting meetings to the Select Board and, when necessary, Planning Board meetings. Since the end of March, meetings have been held remotely via video conferencing, and continue to be broadcast on local cable television channels and YouTube.

When other committees began to meet again via Zoom, in a limited fashion, that placed pressure on staff who have to organize and run equipment during the meetings. At an August Select Board meeting, Caler said her administrative assistant was overwhelmed with having to run Zoom meetings.

Caler pointed out that committees are the creation of the Select Board, and serve under the Board's direction, with the exception of Personnel, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and the Charter Commission.

"If they’re working and doing what you want them to do, wonderful. If they’re not for any reason, you have the ability to change how that works," she said.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about rethinking how the committee structure works now, and going forward, and how things can be done better or differently.

She said this discussion was in an initial phase, and that it will be important to speak with the town's "great committee members who are active participants and volunteers in anything town related."

McKellar wants to improve public engagement and make it easier to be involved in town government and provide input and ideas.

She said some of the best work comes from committees. At the same time, the board needs to look at how the town has evolved and ways public participation may need to change, she said.

She would like to involve people with limited time or who want to work on specific projects, who may not be able to commit to three-year committee terms.

She said the town's new website could be used to survey people interested in working with the town, on ways they might be able to participate and skills they have.

Lookner supports a survey of current committee members to assess how the pandemic has affected committee work. She urged to the board to keep long-time committee members in mind.

Board member Taylor Benzi said he loves the idea of a survey of active committee members and their thoughts on how things are going and on "streamlining how our system works."

Board member Marc Ratner said working as Select Board liaison to committees, he has seen the amazing things committees have done for the town.

Caler and a number of board members talked about opportunities that come up quickly and the difficulty of trying to involve committees with fixed schedules and work plans.

Falciani said the community is rich with talent in specialty knowledge areas including financial and technical acumen. He raised the idea of reinforcing the committee structure by having a specialty task force to focus on certain areas.

Resident survey

Caler brought up the idea of including a town survey with absentee ballots for the November election. She is interested in hearing from a broad, cross-section of residents on priorities before the town makes big investments or asks voters to fund major projects.

Board members brought up cautions about the need for well-designed questions that would provide useful information. Lookner and Benzi are hesitant to include anything that might add confusion to returning absentee ballots for the upcoming election. Benzi suggested waiting until tax bills are sent out in April.

Board members agreed to at least draw up questions by their next meeting, that they would like to see on a survey.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Dorinda Jacobs | Sep 17, 2020 20:31

I had a problem with a cat my daughter owned hunting birds.  I put a collar with a bell on him and it curtailed his ability to sneak up on critters and kill them.  Within a year he lost total interest in hunting anything.


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