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Pittsburgh to put GPS trackers in animal control trucks after union claims officers overworked

July 29, 2018

Oliver Clark, 3, of Squirrel Hill looks out from a Pittsburgh Animal Care and Control Truck that was on hand in Market Square as part of the kick off for the National Night Out festivities, Tuesday, July 28, 2015.

City officials intend to track the daily workload of Pittsburgh Animal Care and Control officers following union complaints of short staffing and a negative vote by City Council this week on an agreement that would have expanded the service into Mt. Oliver.

Mayor Bill Peduto said Thursday that the city would install GPS tracking devices on all Animal Care and Control trucks.

“We’ll be able to get the data now on exactly how many pickups are being done per day, which crews are picking them up, and where they are during the days that they are working for the city of Pittsburgh since they have stated through their union that they’re overworked,” Peduto said. “We’ll definitely be able to determine (that) now.”

City Council on Tuesday rejected an agreement between the city and Mt. Oliver that would have provided the borough with animal control services for a fee. The 2-7 vote came during a meeting after Teamsters Union Local 249 complained that the department was short staffed.

Council had given the proposal its tentative approval with a 6-0 vote the week before.

“We already have people doubling out, getting called in on their day off, because we don’t have enough people,” said Paul Kapetanovich, the union’s recording secretary. “We feel it’s an unsafe condition and an unsafe situation for the residents of the city. If they have money for the GPS, why don’t they have money to hire someone?”

The department includes 13 animal control officers and one staffer who picks up dead animal carcasses. The department previously had a total of 18 staffers, according to Kapetanovich. The union wanted the city to hire two additional officers and purchase another truck. The officers are paid $20.60 an hour, according to Pittsburgh’s 2018 budget.

Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said the department averages 700 to 1,000 calls per month. Mt. Oliver estimated the city would average a maximum of five additional monthly calls in the borough. Borough council previously approved the agreement.

Hissrich and Peduto said the department could handle the extra calls without additional staffing and equipment.

“A maximum of five extra calls per month on average is not a significant increase for Animal Care and Control,” Hissrich said. “Mt. Oliver is totally surrounded by Pittsburgh and many times our Animal Care and Control officers are going through Mt. Oliver anyway”

Under the agreement, Mt. Oliver would have paid the city an hourly rate in 2018 of $65.76 per hour for animal control officers working 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and $66.76 for those working 3 to 11 p.m., plus increased fees for calls on holidays and sheltering animals. Rates would increase in subsequent years.

Mt. Oliver’s police officers currently respond to animal control calls.

“We are going to continue doing what we are doing,” said Mt. Oliver Manager Rick Hopkinson. “We already respond to animal control calls, but unfortunately it takes a police officer off of a shift to transport an animal if necessary, which is why we were hoping to sign an (agreement) with the city to provide that service on a per call basis. We’re lucky if we get a dozen calls a year, so the impact of the city’s “no” vote on Mt. Oliver is minute.”

Council members voiced concerns that officers tied up in Mt. Oliver would not be available for calls in Pittsburgh. Councilwoman Darlene Harris of Spring Hill said she voted against the agreement because city officials failed to negotiate with union officials before the vote.

Council President Bruce Kraus of the South Side and Councilwoman Erika Strassburger of Squirrel Hill were the only “yes” votes. Kraus said he supported the agreement because nuisance animals from Mt. Oliver could easily roam into his 3rd Council District, which surrounds the borough.

Peduto, long a proponent of sharing services with neighboring municipalities, said the city has no plans to hire additional officers.

“We’re not actively out there trying to solicit the work, but when Wilkinsburg comes to us, or Crafton comes to us, or Mt. Oliver comes to us and says that they are looking to partner with us, we’re always open to listen and work on an arrangement to make it work,” the mayor said.

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