Mesa’s budget problems are forcing City Hall to confront another difficult choice — what to do about unruly animals that wander through neighborhood streets and backyards?
The East Valley’s largest city has taken pride for years in dealing with at-large pets and wild animals through its own animal control office. Nearly all of the surrounding cities contract with Maricopa County to handle animal calls, which means fewer headaches for those cities but less flexibility in meeting the needs of individual communities. As a division of the police department, Mesa’s animal control officers have taken on such tasks as rescuing cats from trees, picking up snakes and Gila monsters who find themselves in the wrong place, rounding up livestock and enforcing pooper-scooper laws.
Or at least they used to do these things, until a lack of funding prompted Mesa to direct precious dollars to other police services. That constantly barking dog next door certainly is annoying, but few would argue it should be a higher priority than stopping burglaries, assaults and reckless motorists.
Tribune writer Katie McDevitt reported Tuesday the situation has become untenable, with only two animal control officers to address an average of 996 calls a month, and up to 60 calls waiting at the same time for attention. Mesa police will soon ask the City Council to either hire more animal control officers — or to surrender local control and start paying the county to take these calls.
Voters have said they want Mesa’s problems solved with a high dose of spending restraint. Contracting with the county would accomplish this instead of hiring five to seven additional animal control officers.
Mesa animal control supervisor Diane Brady told McDevitt that police officers likely would be diverted to answer a number of complaints that the county does not accept. But the city could make it clear to residents that some services must be dropped to keep the city budget balanced.
Many residents probably wouldn’t notice the difference anyway, since it’s virtually impossible now for Mesa animal control to get to the lowest-priority calls in time to help.