By Larry Barszewski

There’s a silent “F” in Delray Beach’s TNVR feral cat control program and it has some city residents fuming.

TNVR — Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return — is a program adopted by the city two years ago to make a dent in its rising feral cat population, a program supporters say won’t work if you don’t “Feed” the neutered cats once they’re returned to the streets.

Resident Ann Stacey-Wright told city commissioners at their Sept. 5 meeting that the situation has gotten out of hand, with some people feeding cats right in front of her home without her permission. Stacey-Wright said she has nothing against cats, but she doesn’t want them being fed near her.

“While it may seem like a noble cause, it has inadvertently led to other issues. For example, food put out by volunteers brings other rodents, pests, raccoons, possums, large wood rats, all kinds of animals into our community,” said Stacey-Wright, who lives in the 200 block of Southwest Seventh Avenue.

“Not only that, when you put out the food, it’s left there. It becomes unsightly. The area that it’s being put out in is in front of residences that do not have cats or have animals, such as myself. I am highly allergic to cats.”

Ernestine Holliday, who lives on Northwest Ninth Avenue just north of Atlantic Avenue, said her neighborhood is also full of cats.

“My neighbor is also allergic to cats. Just last week, a cat delivered a litter on my back porch. That is not something that I want to endure the rest of my life,” Holliday said. “Instead of the cats getting better, they’re getting worse. … Please limit where they can feed them, maybe east of Swinton.”

Mayor Shelly Petrolia supports the TNVR program, but said she was caught unaware of the feeding portion.

“The feeding part has never come before the commission,” Petrolia said.

She said the vaccinate and return program is beneficial because cats are territorial. If the cats are simply removed, then other, non-neutered cats will move in and keep the problem going, she said. Returning the cats that can’t reproduce helps keep the overall population down and the non-neutered cats from taking over.

“It’s not that we want to repopulate. It’s that we want to repopulate with animals that can’t reproduce, to hold the population down and keep the other ones out,” Petrolia said.

Sam Walthour, director of neighborhood and community services for the city, said the city allocates $25,000 annually for the 2-year-old TNVR program to have vendors trap the feral cats that are then neutered and vaccinated before being returned to neighborhoods. He said the program is very specific about where feeding can occur, but other people are out there feeding the cats, too.

f“We deal with our own volunteers and tell them where they can and cannot be as it relates to supplemental feeding, but primarily they’re feeding the cats out of their own pocket and we do come along and provide some food supplement,” Walthour said.

At their Sept. 18 meeting, commissioners got more information about the program from a teenager, Kiki Casale, daughter of former City Commissioner Juli Casale, who pushed for the program when she was on the dais.

Kiki Casale, one of the volunteers in the registered feeder program, said she feeds five colonies on Shadow Lane every day. She had to get permission from the homeowners where she feeds them. The cats must be fed on private property because the program’s rules do not allow feeding on public property.

“There’s no point in having a TNVR program if you are going to place the cats back on the street to starve,” Kiki Casale said.

“The city is fortunate that we have nonprofits that can adopt out the cats and kittens. … We have volunteer feeders like me who are doing this at their own expense.”

Budget, tax rate approved
City commissioners on Sept. 18 approved a $184.9 million general fund budget, which covers the day-to-day operations of city government, for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, a 9.3% increase from the previous year.

Commissioners set the city’s combined tax rate, including the rate to pay for voted debt, at $6.4982 per $1,000 of assessed value. The tax rate for operating expenses was set at $6.3611 per $1,000 of assessed value, a drop of $.15 per $1,000 from the previous rate.

However, the lower rate still represents an overall 7.9% tax increase for existing properties, not including new construction, because of rising property values in the city.

In other news:
• City commissioners approved the limited use of artificial turf in yards. The turf, which requires a permit to install, is allowed only on side and rear portions of a yard — not visible from the street — and it must be combined with living plants as part of a landscape design. Artificial turf is not allowed in rights-of-way (swales) in front of a home, nor can it be used within 5 feet of a property line.
• Commissioners agreed to raise the minimum wage for city employees represented by the Service Employees International Union to $15.32 an hour, along with 4% pay increases for other SEIU workers who are not at the maximum for their pay grade. The commission vote was 4-1, with Petrolia voting no. Petrolia did not oppose the raises, but she said the raises should have waited until a new contract was being negotiated.
• The Florida Commission on Ethics dismissed a complaint filed against Deputy Vice Mayor Rob Long that claimed he had a voting conflict on three separate votes while previously serving on the city’s Planning and Zoning Board. The ethics commission found no probable cause for the complaint, which alleged Long voted on a residential development project that could benefit a client of his.
• Term-limited Commissioner Adam Frankel announced Sept. 27 that he is running to be the next Palm Beach County public defender, seeking to replace Carey Haughwout, who is not running for reelection.
• The city will host a two-day symposium about the proposed Atlantic Avenue Historic District at the Fieldhouse at Old School Square, 51 N. Swinton Ave. There will be an educational symposium about the district at the Fieldhouse at 3 p.m. Oct. 26, which will include information about the district’s benefits and its legal and financial implications. A community discussion about the proposed district will be held at the same location at 10 a.m. Oct. 27.

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