Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 49
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
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Township Committee Discusses Dog Ordinance, Billing for Sewer Project

Ellen Gilbert

Penalties for aggressive dogs, filling a vacated Planning Board seat, and timely billing for sewer repairs were the main discussion points at Monday’s Township Committee Meeting, the first presided over by Deputy Mayor Bernie Miller since Mayor Phyllis Marchand’s retirement.

Animal Control Officer Mark Johnson and Health Officer Dave Henry were on hand for the discussion of an ordinance to amend penalties for dog bites or attacks, increasing the current $50 charge for a first offense to $250, with a $500 fine for a second offense. Committee member Chad Goerner suggested that, aside from the question of fees, the language in the existing ordinance was “too sweeping” in its failure to explicitly define inappropriate dog behavior. He called for more clearly articulated descriptions of punishable offenses, so that the “onus” was not on the animal control officer to decide whether or not a dog was potentially dangerous. Both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Henry expressed their willingness to be guided by the committee’s decision about whether or not to fine-tune the law, although they pointed out that having the latitude to determine how to handle a case by using their experience and judgment and checking with each other has worked so far. Dogs who attack owners, Mr. Johnson noted, are not being charged. This is an “extremely high year” for reports of biting dogs, he said, with 45 episodes under investigation. He noted that he has issued only one summons in the last three years for barking. The Committee agreed to table a decision on the ordinance until its next meeting on December 15.

A resolution to approve the appointment of Township resident Michael Mann to the Planning Board was also tabled for a future meeting after Mr. Goerner complained that the item had not appeared on the consent agenda distributed to Committee members over the weekend. He expressed concern about not having had time to consider Mr. Mann’s credentials. Committee member Vicki Bergman responded by saying that the board vacancy had existed since September, and that Mr. Mann’s application had been sent to each committee member in October. With several important issues for the Planning Board to consider coming up, she was reluctant, she said, to leave the seat empty. Mr. Goerner noted that a number of other applications for the same seat were on file in the Township office, and that he did not believe key decisions would be made at coming Planning Board meetings. In the interest of achieving consensus, committee member Lance Liverman suggested that a decision on the appointment be postponed. The motion was passed, with Ms. Bergman dissenting.

Sewer Operating Committee Manager Robert A. Hough referred to a “learning curve” and the difficulty of dealing with multiple agencies in “closing out” repair work as he responded to questions about the timely billing of homeowners for completed projects. Franklin Avenue resident James Parker reported that he had only recently received bills for work that had been completed in 2003, and expressed concern over the use of the same firm to both carry out a project and assess whether it had been completed satisfactorily. Mr. Hough responded by saying that different people were used for assessment. Billing for projects completed in 2006 and 2007 will probably go out in February, he said.

Deputy Mayor Miller reported that the December 15 meeting may be a joint one with Borough Council, since Tax Assessor Neal A. Snyder and representatives of Company Appraisal Systems, the firm hired to conduct the coming reevaluation, will be there to answer questions.

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