By JESSE BURKHARDT
Prodded by a Bingen couple fighting for the right to keep their pet duck, the Bingen City Council has agreed to try to amend the city's livestock ordinance.
On Sept. 16, council members reached a consensus that the ordinance should be changed, with a distinction between "pets" and "livestock" one of their primary considerations.
Mayor Brian Prigel explained that he believes the original ordinance -- approved by the council in 1963 -- was not directed at individual pets.
"It essentially addressed barnyard-type animals -- at least we assume that," Prigel said. "The council has agreed to at least look at the ordinance and determine if it needs further review."
In its current form, Bingen Municipal Code 6.08 specifically bans all poultry -- including ducks -- from being kept within the city limits.
At the council's Sept. 2 meeting, residents Oliver Pochert and Michelle Halbin pleaded with the council not to make them give up their pet duck, "Duffy," and the council agreed to consider their concerns.
"The city's goals are to protect neighborhoods and neighbors regarding health issues," Prigel explained. "Noise and odor are two main issues to be addressed, and we don't want any invasive species or dangerous, exotic animals."
Pochert and Halbin were at the Sept. 16 council meeting, and one of their neighbors also attended to offer support for their pet.
"I have the duck right next door to me," said Wendi Zeober. "She's a lovely creature and she's sweet. I think of the dogs I hear barking all day and all night; I hear them growling and barking and no one does anything about it. There is no noise and no smell from the duck. Duffy is a blessing to our neighborhood. Kids come by and don't have to worry about being bitten. She's soft, gentle, and well cared for."
Councilor Catherine Kiewit suggested allowing certain animals with a permit.
"I think a permit system gives the city the most control, and you'd know the location of the animal," Kiewit explained. "There could be a small permit fee to register each animal to offset some of the cost."
Kiewit added that some other animals needed to be considered in the overall ordinance review process.
"The current ordinance doesn't address bees or rabbits, and this would be a good opportunity to address everything," Kiewit said.
Council member Laura Mann said she agreed in general with the idea of allowing ducks within the city limits.
"I'm open to looking at a permit idea with certain restrictions," Mann said.
Bingen City Administrator Jan Brending asked the council members if there was a consensus to move forward with altering the existing ordinances.
Council member Sandi Dickey expressed support for altering the ordinance to allow certain animals as pets.
"I like Catherine's proposal," Dickey said. "I think it's a good idea to look into permitting of animals."
Councilor Betty Barnes, however, expressed doubts about opening the door to additional animals, and suggested adding to the restrictions by including rabbits on the prohibited list.
"I'm a traditionalist, and it's probably acceptable to me to leave the ordinance as is," Barnes said.
Barnes added that she wanted to see the minutes from the 1963 meeting when the original ordinance was passed, to try to determine why the council voted to create the livestock ordinance in the first place.
Mann said there should be a clear distinction in the ordinance between animals as pets and animals as livestock.
"A person should be able to choose what they want to bond with," Mann added. "A pet can enhance a person's quality of life."
"That's why we would need to limit a pet to just one, so they don't reproduce," Brending added.
Barnes also pointed out that a developer recently asked the city to alter its zoning ordinances to allow him to proceed with a specific development. But Barnes recalled that he was told the city would not drop its other priorities to fix his issue.
"I'm wondering -- are we about to do in this case what we wouldn't do for him?" Barnes questioned.
Mann said she did not believe that was the case.
"I think we have to address issues that come to the table," Mann explained. "When people bring their concerns, that issue should be discussed."
Brending agreed, and noted that there was another significant distinction between the two cases.
"These people are faced with a pending action against them," Brending said. "They are faced with having to give away their duck."
With at least three council members wanting to move forward with changes to allow specified animals as pets, the city attorney was asked to draft a modified livestock ordinance.
A public hearing on the changes was tentatively set for Oct. 20.
"We'll work on the language, and bring it back for further review," Prigel said.