Mill Hall Council goes after cats, ATVs

People could be jailed for having a noisy feline

MILL HALL — If you own a cat and live in Mill Hall, your days of carefree bliss may be over.

Ditto for ATV riders.

This past Tuesday, council approved an ordinance to stop residents from feeding stray cats, from letting their house cats roam, even from allowing a cat to make a loud noise… unless they follow the ordinance’s conditions.

And next month, borough council expects to vote on an ordinance amendment that would stop people from riding ATVs, dirt bikes and similar vehicles, even on private property.

The cat ordinance takes effect Oct. 26.

You won’t be able to just put your house cat out anymore. If you have a cat door, you may want to board it up to avoid a fine or worse.

Also, under the new ordinance, anybody who harbors or just permits a cat — domestic, non-domestic or feral — to remain on or around his property is considered that cat’s owner and can be fined or even jailed, or both.

Council President Anthony R. Walker described this ordinance as an attempt to eliminate some of the issues that come with cats in any neighborhood.

Mayor Thomas H. Bossert said, “We have a number of feral cats in the borough and they are becoming offensive to homeowners, and therefore we were compelled to do something to alleviate that.”

Borough residents have described problems caused by feral cats in the area of Mann Avenue/Mill Hall Elementary School, and also in the West Arch/South Chestnut Street area. Someone apparently is feeding these cats, at least on Mann Avenue.

The broad strokes of the new ordinance include the following:

r No one shall allow any cat on his premises to make a loud noise that deprives anyone else of “peace, quiet, rest or sleep.”

r No one shall allow any cat he owns or has under his control to defecate on any sidewalk, walkway, or anyone else’s property without immediately cleaning it up.

r No one shall permit any cat he owns or harbors or has under his control to run at large in the street, on public grounds, or on anyone else’s property.

However, cats may be out and about if they are accompanied by a person, if they are under “the reasonable contact” of a person, or if they are being walked on “a collar and chain or other device.”

r A stray cat may not run free unless it has been spayed or neutered, immunized against rabies, and has its left ear tipped to show that it has been sterilized and immunized.

r No one may feed stray or feral cats if feeding causes a nuisance to neighbors or creates a condition against the health, safety or welfare of the community — unless that person participates in a trap-neuter-return program sponsored by the borough in conjunction with the local SPCA.

The borough police officers are now cat-catchers. They are authorized to seize any cat in violation and take it to the Clinton County SPCA. The cat owner or claimant has to pay $50 to get the cat back, plus pay for any invoice from the SPCA for boarding the cat. The SPCA will hold the cat for five days after the owner has been notified, before adopting it out or otherwise disposing of it.

For the first offense, a cat owner who violates the ordinance can be fined anywhere from $50 to $300 plus the costs of prosecution, or be sent to jail for up to 90 days, or both.

For any other offense within one year of sentencing for the prior violation, the owner can be charged with a misdemeanor and, if convicted, be fined from $100 to $500 plus costs, or jailed for up to one year, or both.

The mayor called the ordinance effective, even sensitive.

He said it would encourage pet lovers whose hearts are touched by the plight of stray cats to sign up for the free Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program offered by the SPCA.

Through this program, cats are spayed or neutered, given a rabies shot, and given a one-time dose of anti-flea medication, all free to the person who feeds them. These measures can relieve the caretaker from having to feed unwanted kittens, give the cat a healthier life, and cut down on or even eliminate some nuisance cat behaviors in the neighborhood, including spraying and fighting.

According to TNR literature, once feral cats in a colony stop having kittens, the colony stabilizes and its members will keep new cats out. This allows the colony to shrink over the years as the resident cats die off or find homes.

Any animal welfare organization may apply to the borough to be a trap-neuter-return program sponsor.

If an organization becomes a sponsor, it must register each colony it is managing by giving the colony’s general location, the number of its cats, and the number of its caretakers. Also, for every colony it is managing, it must give an annual report to the borough on the number of the colony’s cats and kittens, as well as how many cats from the colony have been sterilized. The organization must also give a report every year on the disposition of each feral cat brought to its facility.

ATV BAN

Council proposes to amend another ordinance for another perceived nuisance. This would regulate recreational, off-road vehicles to the point that they may not be ridden anywhere in the borough, except under certain strict conditions.

Some 20 to 30 people attended Tuesday’s meeting because of this proposal, Bossert said, and it made for “a lively meeting.”

Some residents were for the idea of controlling ATVs and others protested that they should be able to run their own vehicle on their own property, he said.

The mayor said the issue arose because some property owners reportedly run their vehicles at all hours. The lengthy and inappropriate noise offends neighbors and affects the quality of life that residents can reasonably expect, he said.

“The basis of it is everybody has an equal opportunity to enjoy their property,” he said. “When someone is creating a hazardous or offensive situation, the government is compelled to try to resolve the situation.”

The amendment is intended to eliminate noise, dust and fumes from off-road vehicles.

Walker said limiting riding of such vehicles should limit discomfort to neighbors.

Under the amendment, no one would be able to ride an ATV, trail bike, dirt bike, motor scooter, Moped or snowmobile for recreation on any public or private street, or on any public or private property.

The exceptions would be vehicles used for fire protection, medical rescue, and similar purposes; motorized wheelchairs or scooters for someone with a disability; lawn care, snow-blowers and similar vehicles; utility vehicles used for business operations; and vehicles participating in a borough-sanctioned event.

Violating the regulations would be a summary offense, with a fine of from $50 to $300 plus costs for the first offense, and $100 to $500 plus costs for subsequent offenses.

The borough used an ordinance from Millheim as a guide, and the solicitor and Bossert tailored it to fit Mill Hall.

However, the amendment has been sent back to the solicitor for more clarity in the wording, to resolve any possible ambiguities that citizens brought up at the meeting.

Bossert said he expected the revised amendment to come back before council for a vote at the next meeting, Oct. 25.

OTHER MATTERS

Danis Street will be closed from East Church Street to Bressler Alley during Spook Haven’s haunted house season.

In addition, the mayor declared a no-parking experiment on that same section of the street. Once no-parking signs are installed, no one will be allowed to park on either side of Danis Street in this section for at least 90 days.

People park there to feed the ducks, the mayor said, but that makes it hard for emergency vehicles to get through. The alleys in that area are so narrow that Danis Street access is critical for ambulances and fire trucks, he said.

In the past, people have pulled their cars so far off Danis Street, they were parked on the sidewalk at Spook Haven, and the walkway was ruined. Recently Spook Haven’s owners did the right thing and replaced that sidewalk with amiesite, as allowed. Now people are reportedly pulling their cars onto the amiesite, creating another potential problem. Under the 90-day no-parking trial, there should be no parking there at all.

Council can observe the positive or negative impacts during the trial period, the mayor said, and then it can vote on whether or not to make this no-parking zone a permanent one.

The West Church Street paving project is complete for the most part, Walker said. Some things had to be added that weren’t figured into the original bid price, he said, but generally council is pleased with the project.

The mayor called it an accomplishment. During the major restructuring of the borough’s sewer system, streets had to be torn up, and West Church was one of them. It has a main sewer lateral running down the middle of it, Bossert said.

“It has been patched and patched and patched. Council determined it was time to fix it,” he said.

The completion of this paving project brings the borough closer to the conclusion of the sewer work which has lasted for more than a decade.

Council set trick-or-treat hours for Tuesday, Oct. 31 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Leaf pickup dates are Mondays, Oct. 30, Nov. 6, Nov. 13 and Nov. 20. Residents may put bagged leaves at curbside for pickup. No tree branches, grass clippings or garbage will be accepted.

A budget work session for council has been set for Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m.

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