Stark County Sheriff George Maier will on March 1 take over the operations of the Stark County Dog Warden's office.

CANTON  There's a new dog warden in town, the county sheriff.

Stark County commissioners on Wednesday approved a two-year agreement with Stark County Sheriff George Maier to become the county's dog warden and lead that office starting March 1.

County Administrator Brant Luther said state lawmakers in 2013 gave boards of county commissioners the power to delegate the duties to the county sheriff. He said at least 16 other counties have done so.

Luther said the primary reason for the move is it gives sheriff's deputies all the powers of dog warden deputies to seize and impound stray dogs or seek the seizure of a dog, with court approval, that is being treated inhumanely. Also deputy dog wardens did not have the authority to investigate possible crimes they suspected were occurring outside of their dog warden duties. Sheriff's deputies have that authority.

Rather than only the dog warden and four deputy dog wardens having the authority to impound dogs, every sheriff's deputy would have that power, as long as the sheriff's deputies received the required training.

"When you have a whole group of deputies out throughout the county, designating the sheriff as the dog warden can serve as a force multiplier. It can certainly be more efficient," Luther said.

"And while the deputies are at the door at the scene if they see or get a complaint of animal cruelty whereas a dog warden could not do anything about an animal cruelty complaint. ... If they see something that that the dog warden in the past could not address in a law enforcement type way, they will now be able to address that."

Commissioner Janet Weir Creighton quipped to Sheriff Maier, "this makes you the lead dog,"

She later said to laughter, "Well sheriff, I didn't mean to call you a dog. Because you're not."

Maier replied, "We're going to take a bigger bite out of crime."

In a more serious tone, Creighton said, "I think it's another step in streamlining things that we do here in this county and the collaboration. I think it really demonstrates that all of us work together. That we don't allow attitudes or political influence to get in the way of doing what's right for Stark County."

Transition

Maier is expected to hire current County Dog Warden Jon Barber to work for him overseeing warden duties of Maier's office. Maier's office would also contract with a veterinarian and veterinarian technicians to provide care to impounded dogs. And the sheriff's office would be responsible for euthanizing dogs deemed dangerous or not suitable for adoption.

Barber, who's been the dog warden for about five years, told the commissioners, "I think efficiencywise on the enforcement side, this is the right move to make. ... Certainly, I look forward to working with the sheriff and his staff during this transition as well."

Luther said the contract negotiated by the commissioners with Teamsters Local No. 92, which represents five dog warden's office employees, has a clause that automatically terminates the union contract if the sheriff takes control of the office. The current three-year contract was finalized in October and retroactively began in July. The sheriff would have to negotiate a new contract with the union, but he's not obligated to hire current employees.

The sheriff's agreement with the commissioners says that either party can end the arrangement with six months notice. Then the commissioners would resume direct control of the Dog Warden's office.

No fiscal impact

The Dog Warden's office has revenue of about $890,000 a year with just under $800,000 in dog tag fees and the rest in adoption fees, fees charged to dog owners reclaiming dogs, fines for dog violations and donations, according to the commissioners' office. The sheriff's office would be able to use those funds to run the county dog pound and fund salaries of employees devoted to dog warden duties. But the sheriff will not get extra compensation for running the dog warden's office.

Luther said the move will not cost taxpayers any additional money.

Creighton said she expects the sheriff taking over the dog warden's office will raise dog tag fee revenue because with dozens of sheriff's deputies to enforce dog tag laws, it will provide more incentive to comply and pay the $14-a-year dog tag fee.

The county administrator said the commissioners had discussed the change since August 2016. But the law requires it can only take place in the first commissioners' meeting of an odd numbered year. In December 2016, the untimely death of the sheriff's chief deputy John Campbell was one reason for why the move was delayed.

The commissioners were to meet with the Dog Pound volunteers who help the dogs find homes Wednesday afternoon to inform them of their decision.

The Dog Warden's office picked up 1,245 dogs in 2018 and 1,316 dogs in 2017, Luther said. The commissioners office expects the renovation of the county dog pound will be done around March 1.

Reach Repository writer Robert Wang at (330) 580-8327 or robert.wang@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @rwangREP.