The Lebanon City Council will not pursue any formal cat control policies after discussing the issue at its Oct. 9 regular session.
The council received a complaint about the damage cats can do to neighboring yards during its September public session. At that time, the council directed Community Development Director Kelly Hart to study the issue and submit a report at the next session.
On Wednesday, Hart told the council that state law requires communities to provide for a dog control program. Lebanon meets this requirement by working with Linn County. But state law offers no guidance on the issue of cat control.
Hart discussed the issue with Linn County Animal Control and was told that program has no facilities for housing impounded cats, and lacks the staff and funding to enforce cat regulations if they were enacted. There is also concern about the ability to enforce cat regulations.
Enforcement requires the ability to identify the cat in question as well as the owner.
"Only a proportion of the cats that actually roam the streets are owned by people. They're considered at-large cats where they're actually a pet but they're allowed to go into other neighbors' yards and mess around in their gardens as they see fit. But there are stray cats as well as feral cats that are also in the mix," Hart said.
A survey of other Oregon cities shows that cat regulation programs are rare. Two counties (Jackson and Clatsop) offer voluntary cat licensing. The focus of those programs is on helping return lost pets to their owners.
Multnomah County does require cats to be licensed, but county officials estimated that only about half of all cats are properly registered. Multnomah County's cat enforcement is complaint-driven and so far this year, one citation has been issued.
Hart said a different approach is for people to take steps to keep cats away from their property. There are a wide range of products, both common household products and commercial items, which may be effective in deterring cats.
"An option the city can look into is an educational resource rather than looking at the enforcement side," Hart said, adding that Multnomah County's animal control website is a great example.
Councilor Rebecca Grizzle thanked Hart for the presentation and said she understands the concerns. She also noted that many people contribute to the problem.
"I know so many people who don't have a cat but 'There's a lot of cats in the neighborhood so I just leave some cat food out' which means you now have cats," Grizzle said. "What happens if the cat is sick? Who pays for that? 'Well ... then it's not my cat. It's my cat when I want to give some food.' So there's no way to track down who owns these cats and maybe you can tell, but I'm not a big fan."
Mayor Paul Aziz agreed that the city is not in position to operate its own enforcement program.
"There's just no enforcement possible. We don't have any of the resources, at all," Aziz said. "I really like the idea of the public information campaign. I think that would be the way to go."
The council agreed that providing public information was the right approach.
In other actions Wednesday, the council:
• Received an update from Police Chief Frank Stevenson on the city's Coalition on Homelessness. Stevenson said that there had been hope that new leadership for the coalition had been identified, but that potential partnership did not work out. He reiterated his belief that it would be best if the Lebanon Police Department took a supporting role on the coalition instead of leading it, but no new leadership has been identified.
• Officially appointed Ron Whitlatch, the city's Engineering Services Director, as the Acting City Manager. The council also approved an increase of $1,000 per month in Whitlatch's salary while he fills this dual role. Whitlatch has been serving as city manager since Aug. 15 when former City Manager Gary Marks was placed on administrative leave. Marks subsequently resigned that post, at the council's request, on Aug. 29. Whitlatch's pay increase was made retroactive to Aug. 15.
• Appointed a committee to oversee the process of hiring a new city manager. That committee will consist of Aziz, councilors Karin Stauder and Michelle Steinhebel, Whitlatch, Stevenson, Maintenance Director Jason Williams, City Clerk Kim Scheafer, and Human Resources Director Angela Solesbee.