The Hoover City Council on Monday night amended the city’s animal regulations to specifically make it an unlawful for people to allow their animals to cause damage to other people’s property.
For example, it now will be considered a public nuisance if someone lets their animal — dog, cat, chicken, etc. — repeatedly or habitually damage someone else’s property, such as getting into or turning over garbage containers or damaging gardens, flowers or vegetables.
People who are unable to resolve such an issue with their neighbor can file a complaint with the city, and the owner of the animal will have to appear in court to answer the complaint, Hoover Court Director Susan Fuqua said.
It’s not considered a criminal offense and won’t go on a person’s record, Fuqua said. However, animal owners no longer will be able to simply pay a fine to resolve a nuisance complaint, whether that be a noise complaint or property damage, she said. The citation is considered a summons, and the animal owner will have to appear in court to answer the complaint, she said.
In the past, pet owners cited for animal nuisances would have to pay a $40 fee on the first offense, a $75 fee on the second offense and then appear in court on the third offense, Fuqua said. Now, the animal owner will have to appear in court on the first offense, she said.
The idea is to get both parties in court to work with the city prosecutor to come up with a solution to repeat animal nuisance issues that neighbors aren’t resolving on their own — essentially using the city prosecutor as an arbitrator, Fuqua said. City prosecutors are good at helping people come up with solutions to stop the problem animal behaviors, she said.
There potentially could be a fine and court costs assessed against the animal owner, but sometimes issues are able to be resolved without a fine or court costs, Fuqua said.
In cases of property damage, the new regulations require the injured party to show evidence of monetary damages, such as the cost of replacing flowers or plants in a garden, she said.
The City Council voted 6-1 in favor of the changes to the animal regulations, with only Councilman Casey Middlebrooks voting against the changes. Middlebrooks said he would have preferred to keep these kinds of issues a civil matter between the two parties without involving Municipal Court.
City Attorney Phillip Corley said people still will be able to file a civil lawsuit regarding animal issues if they so choose. However, it can be expensive and time-consuming to go the civil route, often costing more than the cost of any damages, he said.
This change was designed to require some accountability for pet owners and give the city an enforcement tool for people who don’t pick up their animal’s pet waste or control their animal’s behavior on another person’s property, Corley said.
Middlebrooks asked if the ordinance allows for animals to be confiscated. Fuqua said the city doesn’t seize animals unless they are deemed to be vicious. The city code defines an animal as vicious if it bites or viciously attacks another person or animal outside the animal owner’s property.
Middlebrooks also asked what people can do about roosters crowing. Fuqua said if a police officer hears a rooster crow and he knows where the rooster is, he can issue a citation as a violation of the noise ordinance.
The city’s zoning ordinance does not allow livestock in residential areas unless the property is at least 5 acres and zoned for agricultural use.
RAISING POLICE AND FIRE STARTING PAY
The Hoover City Council also on Monday agreed to let the mayor or his designee raise pay levels for certain police officers, firefighter and fire medics from the first three steps on the pay scale to a step four or higher.
The change was needed because a nearby competitive law enforcement agency recently raised its starting pay for law enforcement officers to a level that is about $6,000 a year higher than Hoover pays its newest officers, City Administrator Allan Rice said. The mayor and department heads already have authority to hire new officers at higher step levels, but that would create a situation where new hires were earning more than other officers who have been in place for two to four years, Rice said. The change approved Monday night allows for step changes for those existing officers to make sure they are paid equitably in comparison to new hires, he said.
“It’s a threat,” Rice said. “If we don’t keep up, we’re concerned we won’t be competitive.”
The city will continue to review its overall pay scale for public safety workers and likely come back with a new pay scale for them in the spring, Rice said.
Council President John Lyda said the council will do whatever it takes to be the employer of choice but he was concerned the city is being reactive with this change and encouraged city staff to seek outside help from a professional salary review consultant to make sure Hoover is competitive throughout the state and not just reacting to a nearby agency.
Rice said the city does plan to seek such outside help and have a more comprehensive salary review by March but wanted to go ahead and make this change so as not to fall behind in the marketplace.
Hoover currently has about 12 police officer vacancies, compared to a typical seven to nine vacancies, Rice said. The Fire Department has three vacancies, which is closer to average, fire Chief Clay Bentley said.
In other business Monday, the Hoover City Council agreed to:
- Lower the business license fee for massage parlors to a $100 base fee, plus $50 for each massage therapist and 15% of 1% of gross receipts in excess of $50,000 in the previous year. The previous license fee was a $100 base fee, plus $50 for each massage therapist and 3% of gross receipts in excess of $10,000 from the previous year. Chief Financial Officer Tina Bolt said the previous license fee was unintentionally inflated when the business category for massage parlors was changed several months back.
- Approved community service agreements with numerous organizations, providing $30,000 to Hoover Helps, $15,000 to the Robert O. Finley Committee, $5,000 to the Hoover Belles and $4,000 each to the Hoover Arts Alliance, Hoover Historical Society and Hoover Service Club.
- Approved a license to sell alcoholic beverages for La Paz Restaurant and Cantina at 3623 Market Street in Ross Bridge at Courtyard by Marriott Hoover at 1824 Montgomery Highway.
- Approved a service agreement with Motorola Solutions for all portable and mobile radios in need of factory repairs and technical support.
- Renewed an agreement with QCHC to provide a registered nurse for the Hoover Jail.
- Agreed to hire Lathan Associates Architects to design the artificial turf installation at nine baseball and softball fields in the city, including seven fields in Hoover city parks and the varsity baseball fields at Hoover and Spain Park high schools.
- Agreed to cut the high weeds and/or grass at 425 Shades Ave. and put a lien on the property to cover the costs.