Friday, April 18, 2003
BOH, animal owners find harmony
After 15 months, 18 drafts of proposed regulations, and more than a few confrontations between the Board of Health (BOH) and owners of large domestic animals, the battle over a new, potentially burdensome set of animal management regulations suddenly seems to be over. At its April 10 meeting the board set aside draft 18 and listened to what the citizens proposed as an approach to animal management in Carlisle. Spokesmen for the group of residents, mostly horse owners, spoke about what they learned listening to the board's deliberations, and agreed that licensing is probably important, as long as neither the rules nor the fees are burdensome. "We met each other half-way," said BOH chair Martha Bedrosian after the meeting.
In January 2002, Carlisle veterinarian Peter Morey pointed out to the board that state law requires the BOH to license and regulate barns and stables if the town population is over 5,000. The town census had just determined that Carlisle's population had exceeded that number. In the intervening months the board discussed proposed regulations at numerous sessions. The eighteenth draft of the proposed regs stated that owners of animals (other than pets kept in the home) would be required to:
• obtain an annual license
• pay fees for the license and inspections
• file a location plan, showing that animal areas, manure piles, storage areas, and compost piles conform to defined setbacks.
• file a written manure management plan.
At recent meetings, the crowd could swell to 80 and become confrontational, as the animal lobby feared the regs would make 60% of their properties non-conforming and, consequently, less valuable. In several documents, which the board of health never discussed at its meetings, they suggested an alternative process, including,
• "simplified" licensing, similar to current dog-licensing
• adoption of simple manure management regulations, based on Carlisle's 1987 "Regulations Pertaining to the Stockpiling of Manure"
• formation of an advisory council to provide educational resources and assist the board in mediating complaints.
The group pointed out that the state law is dates back to the 1890s and is vague on what needs to be licensed. Towns similar to Carlisle, such as Lincoln, Stow and Groton, have ignored it despite populations of 6,000 to 10,000. In addition, the BOH has acknowledged that there have been few animal problems in Carlisle, and that most of these were neighbor disputes, related to manure nuisance rather than public health.
Points of agreement
Last Thursday, Bedrosian opened the animal regulations discussion, saying that the board "decided to go back and think about we wanted to do." She acknowledged that the town has been well-served by the 1987 bylaws, which state that manure piles must be set back 100 feet from any wetland, pond, or well, and 40 feet from a lot line or public way. In fact, she suggested, the 100-foot setback from the owner's well (but not abutters' wells) could be relaxed. Board member Steve Opolski agreed that there needed to be a change in direction. "Creating Draft 19 is not the way to go," he said. "We're messing with people too much; there would be too many exceptions."
Member Lisa Davis Lewis asked the basic question, whether the board needs to license animal facilities. Tricia Smith of Indian Hill Road, who had earlier prepared an "alternative draft," said that she supported licensing as it provides an opportunity for the board to educate the animal owner on best practices. Melissa Webster of Curve Street said that her thinking had evolved and that she now supports licensing also. Others raised the question of what animals and how many animals need to be regulated. Louise Hara of Concord Street pointed out that we don't want to burden the child that owns three chickens.
The audience also explored the possibility of fines for violations. "We need Town Meeting approval for fines," said Opolski. "Right now we have trouble fining. We have to take [violators] to court." Smith favored a setting up a dispute-mediation program, as had been proposed earlier by Wayne Davis of Concord Road. BOH Agent Linda Fantasia reminded the group that there is an informal process already in place. If a complaint comes in, the inspector does a site visit, speaks with the owners and gives them a copy of the regulations. Davis agreed with an informal process and suggested that "peer pressure may drive enforcement." Webster advised the board to "keep clear of the shifty spot of denial of [property] rights."
As to manure issues, which have been at the epicenter of the 15-month controversy, all agreed that education and guidelines were needed. As the relaxed atmosphere progressed almost to levity, the someone suggested a "one-night composting contest." "Bring your slop bucket."
Animal inspector stipend
An immediate issue for the board is how to cover the costs of current animal inspections, including a $2,000 per year stipend for Carlisle Animal Inspector Sally Lakness and her related expenses, such as gloves, boots and occasionally laboratory fees. Currently Lakness performs informal inspections of private animal facilities for free.
Licensing fees could cover the costs, but they must be approved at Town Meeting and the board does not have a Warrant Article for the spring meeting. Two immediate sources of funds include the board's "53E" account, where BOH fees are currently deposited, and new fees for animal inspections. The board is empowered to set fees.
"If we don't use the money in the 53E, the FinCom will raid it," said member Steve Opolski. "We might as well use it for something health-related." Hara objected to covering all of Lakness' expenses through fees paid by animal owners. Lakness does more than barn inspections; she deals with wild animals and other situations, Hara pointed out. Webster stated that a fee of $25 is a lot for a five-minute inspection, especially if that were in addition to an animal licensing fee. Bedrosian commented that inspection fees might be a temporary measure and would disappear once licensing fees are instituted.
At the end of the evening there appeared to be substantial agreement on almost all issues, Bedrosian informally summarized the board's position. "O.K. That's probably the direction that we will go."
© 2003 The