April 3, 2014

Merced police now oversee code enforcement

Merced Police Department announced that the departments of animal control and code enforcement have consolidated. Police already oversaw animal control but have taken the reins of code enforcement from the city’s Planning Department. Police said the move should streamline the departments and make them more effective.

In a move to try to better control stray animals, Merced will add a third full-time officer in the coming months to a newly consolidated unit that handles code enforcement and animal control.

Police announced Thursday that the department has taken the reins of code enforcement from the city’s Planning Department. Merced police already oversaw animal control.

Combining the two units allows the police department to transition to three full-time community service officers who will handle both code enforcement and animal control. The officers will have to go through training for both duties, police said, and could be fully trained by summer.

Stray dogs have been a major concern in town for years. The dogs are a safety and aesthetic problem for many who attend a monthly meeting of the Healthy South Merced Project, a joint effort between Golden Valley Health Center and Neighbors United for a Better South Merced. “They still don’t feel the issue is getting enough attention,” said Mary-Michal Rawling, a community health program manager for Golden Valley Health.

Traditionally in Merced, animal control officers handle any animal-related reports to police. Code enforcement officers deal with property maintenance and nuisance calls, such as overgrown yards, abandoned cars and illegal dumping. Each unit consists of a full-time and a part-time employee.

Many of the duties of code enforcement and animal control units could be woven together, Mayor Stan Thurston said.

“I think it’s mainly for efficiency,” Thurston said. “They overlap so much that having them under one umbrella will create a lot more efficient use of the people we have.”

One animal control officer was not enough to handle the number of strays on Merced’s streets, he said. South Merced in particular has a problem with roaming animals, he said. “It’s an imponderable problem at times,” he said.

The city will begin budget workshops within the next two months. Thurston said the City Council will see if there’s money in the budget for more officers.

According to the city’s salary schedule, full-time code enforcement officers earn between $44,743 and $54,386 a year, while full-time animal control officers make between $31,107 and $47,268. Merced City Council will work out the pay and job description for a community service officer.

“This is a natural fit to consolidate these units since they both deal with the quality of life issues,” said Lt. Chris Goodwin, who will oversee the three officers.

Marilynne Manfredi, president of Merced Dog Owners Group, said she’s optimistic that an increase in officers can make a dent in Merced’s stray population. The unit’s effectiveness will depend on how many hours are focused on animal control, she said.

Dog owners can make a big difference on their own, she said. Getting pets spayed or neutered, keeping animals on a leash and giving unwanted animals to a shelter can help keep the number of stray dogs down.

Manfredi also said people who find dogs should not be afraid to give them to the city’s animal control or another shelter. “The animal shelter does a lot to try to get those dogs re-homed if people don’t come in to pick them up,” she said.

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