COLUMBUS -- The city’s dangerous dog ordinance is becoming more bark than bite as council members continue to propose changes that do little to strengthen what’s already in place.
Columbus City Council held another hourlong discussion on the rules Monday night as details on what will and won’t be included in the new wording are hashed out.
The ordinance is being revised at the request of the county attorney, who prosecutes criminal cases for the city, because a Platte County judge recently ruled the owners of dangerous dogs don’t receive due process under the current procedure.
To alleviate this problem, the city is adding an appeal process that allows owners to contest a dangerous or potentially dangerous designation. That appeal will be heard by a three-member committee, consisting of city council members, if the owner pays a $100 fee and requests the hearing within 48 business hours of the official dangerous or potentially dangerous declaration.
A major concern raised Monday by City Attorney Steve Hansen is whether the roughly 93 dogs in Columbus currently deemed dangerous or potentially dangerous must be given a “fresh start” once the ordinance is changed.
Hansen told the council these labels may not stick in the eyes of a judge since the owners weren’t given the opportunity to appeal.
The city attorney said a clause could be included that gives the owners of animals already classified as dangerous or potentially dangerous a chance to appeal, something Councilman Terry Reardon supported.
Councilman John Lohr also suggested reimbursing the $100 fee on all successful appeals.
Another proposed change to the ordinance allows dogs labeled potentially dangerous to be removed from the list after two years if no additional incidents occur during that time.
Lohr said he wants this stipulation extended to animals already on the potentially dangerous list. If the animal hasn’t been involved in an incident over the past two years, the owner should be able to request the label be removed immediately instead of being forced to wait another 24 months, he said.
Removing a dog from the potentially dangerous list would save the owner from having to purchase $100,000 in liability insurance coverage, a mandate that’s being added to the city ordinance.
John McPhail, a volunteer with the Platte Valley Humane Society and former board president, used Monday’s public hearing on the proposed ordinance changes to again push for harsher penalties for individuals whose dogs attack another animal or a person.
“I still think this ordinance is too easy on the owner of a vicious animal,” said McPhail, who wants a jail sentence added to the potential penalties.
Currently, the city issues a standard penalty, up to a $500 fine, for violations of any ordinance. The possibility of a jail sentence was removed from the penalty for ordinance violations in the 1980s so the city can’t be forced to pay fees for court-appointed attorneys, according to City Attorney Stan Emerson.
Hansen said the county attorney can prosecute the owners of vicious dogs under state law, which provides for a possible jail sentence and eliminates the possibility of the city being responsible for the defendant’s attorney fees.
City ordinance already requires the owner of a dog that attacks a person to pay for any medical expenses and additional compensation can be sought in civil court.
Hansen told the council they could raise the potential fine for ordinance violations from $500 to $1,000, but nobody made a motion to do so during this week’s meeting.
Instead of a harsher sentence for owners, City Council President Ron Schilling wants exemptions from the ordinance for family pets and smaller dogs.
Schilling said he would like to see breed-specific wording in the ordinance since larger dogs can inflict a more serious injury.
Officials from the Columbus Police Department and Animal Control have previously cautioned against breed-specific rules because they can be difficult to enforce.
The councilman said a pet that “nips” a family member also shouldn’t be deemed potentially dangerous.
“I just don’t feel that’s fair to the family,” he said.
City council members are expected to submit their proposed changes to the dangerous dog ordinance before another draft is presented at the June 3 meeting.
In other business Monday, the council approved:
- a $147,730 contract with KEA Constructors LLC of Milford for a deck replacement project on the Christopher’s Cove bridge.
- an application from Bank of the Valley in Bellwood for the preliminary plat of Jim Hellbusch Subdivision, 1.42 acres of vacant land near 33rd Avenue and Lost Creek Parkway.
- an application from Farm Credit Services of America for the preliminary plat of Farm Credit Services of America Subdivision at 4865 Old Monastery Road, the site of the business’ new building.
- an application from Columbus Public Schools for the preliminary plat of Discoverer Second Subdivision, 10 lots within the district-owned land north of 38th Street and west of 33rd Avenue.
- the final plat of New Hope Addition, 16 lots located on 3.17 acres along 45th Avenue just south of 15th Street, and a request to rezone two of the lots from single-family residential to urban-family residential. Habitat for Humanity of Columbus plans to use the property for future builds.
- a request from Donald and Carol Wells and Konley Perry to rezone 1052 and 1060 24th Ave. from light industrial to urban-family residential.
- a request from Meadow Ridge Properties LLC to rezone eight lots in Meadow Ridge Second Addition from rural residential to single-family residential. The lots are located in the 5200 block of 41st Street.
- a $14,025 contract with Mid-Nebraska Repair and Construction of Columbus to extend a concrete road from the concession stand/restrooms in Wilderness Park to the parking lot.
- a contract with Barcel Landscape LLC that pays the Bellwood company $495 per hour to grind wood waste at the transfer station.
- a $152,465 contract with Obrist & Co. of Columbus to install a 6-inch water main from the Pawnee Park/Eighth Street system to Stires Lake.
- a $209,544 contract with Rutjens Construction Inc. of Tilden to replace 4-inch water mains with 6-inch mains along 16th Street from 16th to 25th avenues and 31st Avenue from 13th to 14th streets.
- an agreement with RVW Inc. that pays the Columbus company up to $21,128 to assist with the installation of a new Voice over Internet Protocol telephone system for the police and fire departments and other city offices.
- a liquor license request from NBC Capital LLC and manager Scott Mueller for the New World Inn, 265 33rd Ave.