By JOHN T. WARD
Henry Perez thinks maybe he’s dropped the ball, given that his bosses – the Red Bank mayor and council – appear determined to eliminate his job.
“I totally blame myself, because my residents know more about what I do than my superiors,” the borough’s animal control officer told the the council during its monthly workshop meeting Wednesday.
Still, over the pleas of residents, the governing body showed no sign of halting a plan to sign a six-month contract with the Monmouth County SPCA.
No council members voiced support for maintaining Perez’s job, which would be eliminated by resolution if approved, possibly at the nest regular session June 16.
At a meeting conducted via Zoom, acting business administrator and police Chief Darren McConnell said the change was needed because it is “becoming increasingly difficult for us operationally for us to provide that service locally with the staffing that we have.”
The SPCA “meets that level of service” with a team of employees, he said.
That team responds to calls for domestic animals that get loose, McConnell said, as well as most wildlife calls, but not “non-emergent situations” in which a wild animal has gotten into a home.
“If you have a nest of squirrels in your attic, they don’t come and remove that nest,” he said. “Technically, we should not be doing that, either. We’re not a pest control company. That’s not what animal control is about.”
A raccoon “running around your living room while you and your kids are there” would be considered “a true emergency,” and the SPCA would handle that at no charge, McConnell said.
Under the contract, Red Bank would be grouped in with six other towns – Fair Haven, Little Silver, Shrewsbury Borough, Shrewsbury Township, Eatontown and Oceanport – in a coverage zone that currently generates an average of six calls for service per day, said Councilman Michael Ballard.
Residents would have to pay up to $118 an hour to have wild animals removed from their homes in situations that are not considered a human hazard, under the contract.
“Essentially, they provide all the services we do or should provide, hopefully with a little more ease because of their staffing levels,” he said.
He said the SPCA’s response time averages 20 to 25 minutes.
Calling into the meeting, Perez said his response time is under 8 minutes, though he doesn’t respond after work hours in order to spare the borough paying him overtime; instead, he calls in his backup, Long Branch animal officer Debbie Nagel, at $50 per hour.
Opponents of the change continued to focus on Perez’ intimate knowledge of the borough’s animal population.
Perez also spotlighted his care for wild critters, He cited his rescue of chicks found abandoned in a nest tucked beneath an air conditioner in a Spring Street apartment undergoing a change in tenancy Tuesday.
“We do that as a courtesy to the residents,” Perez said. If the landlord was faced with paying for the removal, “what do you think they’ll do with the baby birds? They’ll just throw them out, because they don’t want to pay the $90.”
McConnell said he has notified Fair Haven and Shrewsbury Township that the borough may exercise an exit clause in an interlocal agreement under which Red Bank provides Perez’s service to those towns.
Under the six-month contract, the borough would pay $4,800 per month, or a total $28,800 through the end of this year.
In response to a resident’s suggestion that Red Bank negotiate a new agreement with those towns, McConnell said they were not interested in doing so.
“Every decision is not dollars and cents. There’s a human aspect here,” said Ballard. “But I just want the residents to have a full understanding of what we’re considering.”
Councilman Hazim Yassin was absent. Shortly before the meeting, the Monmouth County Clerk posted updated, but still unofficial, Democratic primary returns that showed him in third place in a four-way race for two spots on the party’s ballot in the November general election.
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