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Council member opposes change to Willmar, Minn., animal ordinance

WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council member Doug Reese says he opposes a proposed ordinance amendment that would set objective standards for residents wanting to care for or raise animals or fowl.

The council has been debating the ordinance amendment for about a month in response to interest in growing backyard fowl and the potential nuisance factor associated with raising the animals.

The current ordinance lacks objective standards necessary for a fair and effective permitting scheme and needs to be updated, according to an analysis by city attorneys Robert Scott and Christopher Hood.

Reese state his opposition to the amendment during discussion Monday night when council member Jim Dokken said he had received three more calls from citizens who are not in favor of doing anything with the amendment.

"I too have received a number of calls and emails in regards to it,'' said Reese, who has served on the council since 1986.

During that time, Reese said, the council has approved a fowl permit for an individual that lives in a location with no neighbors.

The second request was from an individual who kept pigeons for some time before even engaging with the council or the city for a permit.

Reese said he felt a little discomfort with the pigeon permit but went along with it because the neighbors were OK with it and the individual had pigeons for a period of time and Reese said he didn't want to cause the individual any consternation.

"But as we've gone on and we've had more requests from the community for fowl permits, my level of discomfort grew ... I do have a problem with it within the city of Willmar,'' Reese said.

He said the current ordinance, as pointed out by the attorneys, says that, if the permit is granted by the city for keeping of fowl or animals within the city, the permit is at the discretion of the council until further order of the council.

Reese said he remembers an individual in his neighborhood that was keeping some potbellied pigs in cages out back and it got to be a problem.

"I just have a real problem with it,'' Reese said. "I would not be in favor of changing the ordinance. I would not be in favor of going any further with this. To be honest, I am not going to be in favor of approving any further fowl permits in our city.''

The Community Development Committee had recommended the council on Aug. 6 introduce the ordinance amendment for a hearing Aug. 20. But the council voted Aug. 6 to send the amendment back to committee for more discussion.

In other business, the council voted to set public hearings Sept. 4 to consider assessing $2,640 paid to contractors to mow grass and weeds on 17 properties and to consider assessing nearly $496 paid to contractors to remove garbage at two properties in the city.

City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday said city code allows the council to assess all costs against the affected properties. Halliday was asked by council member Ron Christianson what percent of assessments is collected.

Halliday said 65 percent. He agreed the mowing list seems to be growing each year. "It's a sign of the times. Foreclosure count is up,'' Halliday said.

Renee Nolting, executive director of United Way of West Central Minnesota, reported on the agency's impact on Willmar. The agency serves Willmar, Kandiyohi County and other cities in Renville County, Meeker County, Chippewa County, and Swift County.

During the 2011-12 year, the agency touched 12,602 lives in Willmar.

"United Way does not want to be a Band Aid,'' she said. "We want to be a catalyst for change. We'd love to see those people that we're helping turn around and volunteer and help us.''

The 2011-12 campaign raised $866,529, down from the goal of $923,000. She said businesses, payroll deductions and in-house campaigns raised $527,509.

The 2012-13 goal is $900,000, she said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150