The third try was the charm for a legislative amendment to the city’s wild animal feeding ordinance that will saddle repeat offenders with an up to $500 fine. The amendment was unanimously passed by the Warwick City Council during Monday night’s meeting.
Citing numerous complaints from neighbors about their properties being beset by rats, skunks, possums, squirrels and other animals, Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix has been championing the change since last October, when he introduced a much broader, less specific amendment that drew concerns about its vague language.
The amendment that was voted unanimously through the ordinance committee and was passed officially by the council during the public meeting was much more targeted and much more detailed, which was fitting considering there was hours of public input and concerns that helped craft the finalized version.
The ordinance change will make it a civil offense for residents to feed wild animals through the direct throwing of food items on the ground. First offenses will be dealt with via a warning. A second offense, if within the same year as the first offense, will net a fine up to $250 as determined by the municipal court judge. A third offense in the same year will result in a minimum fine of $50 and a maximum fine of $500.
As many residents enjoy putting out feeders for birds and other animals, the ordinance change includes some important exceptions.
Citizens will not be in danger of receiving a fine if they do so via an elevated bird feeder that is located within 100 feet of their home, and as long as they do so in a way that “doesn't create a nuisance for surrounding property owners; and is not an attractant for rats, skunks, foxes, weasels or coyotes.” Hummingbird feeders are specifically allowed in the ordinance language, as is food that is produced outside through “normal gardening practices.”
An important point of the ordinance to highlight is that it prohibits residents from purposefully or accidentally leaving or storing food outside of their homes, and that includes any “refuse, garbage, food product, pet food, forage product, or supplement salt, seed or birdseed, fruit, or grain in a manner that would constitute an attractant to any wild animal.”
The purpose for the ordinance change remains the same – to prevent wanton and/or oblivious acts of feeding animals that result in unwanted and potentially dangerous nuisances.
One resident from the Norwood neighborhood described the situation he has been dealing with, where his neighbor has been throwing large quantities of birdseed on her property, resulting in large quantities of rats taking up residence around his property.
“I found a dead rat in my kid's playhouse,” he said. “I’m glad I found it because if they found it, they probably would have started playing with it. They’re absolutely everywhere.”
Well known resident and activist Rob Cote spoke up during public comments as well, claiming to have lost thousands of dollars’ worth of destroyed Oriental lilies and captured over 200 squirrels, 60 possums, 32 skunks, eight groundhogs and four raccoons as a result of his neighbor also sprinkling bird seed on the ground.
Others, like Barbara Walsh, contend as they have in the past that this ordinance is an unnecessary, potentially slippery slope that would be better left to neighbors figuring out their own issues with each other.
“Fining them may or may not do the trick. Having people qualified to talk to them may do the trick,” she said. “I worry about unintended consequences…When you make things legal with neighbors against neighbors, it’s not going to solve the problem.”
Members of the city council, however, were satisfied that residents’ had been heard and ultimately agreed to pass the ordinance change.
“We researched several other communities in the region to make sure we had language that worked, because some had some language that did not work out,” said Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi. “This was a far better outcome without overreaching.”
In regard to the voices still opposed to the ordinance after all of its crafting and re-calibration, Rix summed things up nicely prior to a vote from the ordinance committee.
“You can’t always please everyone all the time,” he said.
The law will be upheld by the Warwick Police Department, who Rix has said in the past are well trained in de-escalation and managing disputes between neighbors. The hope, he has said, is that the threat of a fine will cause more people to think about the unintended consequences of what they believe to be innocuous actions.