Linden animal control issues leave multiple towns ‘scrambling’

LINDEN — The decision by Linden to tear down its dilapidated animal control shelter and build a new one has left five towns that contract for this service with the city scrambling for a new vendor.

Although there are more than three months left until the city wraps up its current animal control contracts with Rahway, Clark, Roselle, Fanwood and Winfield Park, the fact remains that with the state mandating every municipality have animal control services, this closure could pose a problem.

In recent months the Linden shelter came under fire for a significant number of health code violations involving the condition of the shelter located at the end of Lower Road.

The violations were uncovered by not only the Elizabeth Health Department, who was called in by a city ad hoc committee to perform the first inspection since 2007, but also the state health department, which found 29 violations and slapped an “unsatisfactory” rating on the shelter.
The city now has 30 days to whip the shelter into shape before the Elizabeth and state health departments return for reinspection.
Mayor Rich Gerbounka said the city will make the repairs required by both health departments, but could not project what this would end up costing.

The mayor was emphatic, though, about not “throwing good money after bad” by trying to make major repairs to the crumbling facility.
Towns contracting with Linden for animal control services now have to go out and find coverage for 2015, and considering many towns provide their own service and there are limited options open to other towns, losing the Linden shelter presents a dilemma.

Gerbounka is aware of the position the city has put contracting towns in because he is now in the same position. With the city animal control facility scheduled to be demolished in early 2015, Linden will also be without animal control services and must find coverage.

“We are exploring several possibilities,” Gerbounka said Tuesday in an interview with LocalSource, adding that one of the possibilities on the table is partnering with Elizabeth. However, he gave full credit to Roselle Mayor Jamel Holley for coming up with this particular idea.

“We also are looking at the Associated Humane Societies of Newark which covers municipalities in several counties,” the mayor said.
While the Humane Society, which headquarters in Newark, does contract with local towns to provide animal control services, their service does not come cheap.

For example, Cranford normally pays approximately $50,000 annually for this service. The fee generally involves a la carte services, with towns selecting coverage that is required by law, according to one municipal health director.

Rahway, which is one of the largest towns looking for coverage for 2015, has already begun the process of scouting. Health Director Warren Hehl explained that he was unaware of the structural issues with the Linden animal shelter, but did note his municipality is currently paying $38,400 this year for animal control services.

“The city of Rahway is pursuing various avenues to continue animal control services for 2015 with the closing of the Linden shelter at the end of the year. This includes services offered by municipalities in Edison, Union and Elizabeth, as well as private agencies,” said the health director, adding private agencies include Associated Humane Societies, Animal Control Solutions, and St. Hubert’s Animal Control.
Holley admitted he was looking beyond 2015 and a temporary solution.

“I think we will be able to find someone to cover us for 2015, but I am looking towards partnering with other towns, sharing this service,” he said.

Holley explained that this is a “simple service,” and not as controversial as sharing police or fire services.

“Mayor Gerbounka and I have been in conversation about this and if they build a new facility I think sharing this service with them, as well as other towns, could be the answer we have all been looking for,” Holley said, adding “this is one of those low hanging fruits that can easily be shared and since we are all in the same hub it financially could be a good move for all of us.”

Gerbounka agreed the best solution for all towns involved is to partner with other municipalities like Roselle, Rahway and Clark, who would in turn share the cost of building the new animal shelter.

“We are definitely going to partner with Roselle,” the mayor said, but was unsure if the other towns that previously contracted with the city would be on board.

“I sent letters to the mayors of these towns and suggested we could partner on this new shelter, but so far I have not heard back from everyone,” said Gerbounka.

Although Clark was contacted multiple times for comment, they did not return calls, neither did Fanwood.