Despite pleas from an outpouring of people — literally — in West Windsor’s council chambers, the council voted 3-2 to layoff animal control officer Bettina Roed after 17 years on the job.
Roed’s supporters crammed into the council room on March 7 — so much so that the line of supporters trailed out into the hallway. At one point, one of Roed’s supporters asked her supporters to raise their hands, and the response filled the room.
Ultimately, though, it came down to money, and the Township Council voted 3-2 to contract with East Windsor for animal control services as a cost-saving measure.
“I don’t think it’s a question of her dedication,” said Councilwoman Linda Geevers about Roed. “The issue is more toward economics. We were left without a shared services agreement.” While the council directed the administration to look for other towns to fill the hole left by Plainsboro in the agreement, there were no other towns willing to join the agreement.
Residents, however, pointed to Roed’s dedication and passion for the job as something that would be lost in a shared services agreement with East Windsor.
Supporters also pointed to the rates charged in the agreement with East Windsor, which set an hourly rate of $65 for the East Windsor officer to respond to calls in West Windsor during the day that involve investigating and processing reports or complaints of animal bites, appearing in court, transporting animals to the kennel, and providing rabies clinic assistance. The standard fee for these services is $65 per hour. Between 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 a.m., and on holidays and weekends, however, the fee is $90 per hour.
Berrien Avenue resident Ben Kuller said Roed responded to his home on a number of occasions to give him the advice he needed. “She handled everything well; I was truly impressed.”
“Will we get the same type of service from East Windsor?” he asked. Right now, a person can call Roed at a direct number to get a response.
Nancy Bennett, of Fieldston Road, who has a master’s degree in animal behavior, told the council she had worked all over the nation with animals for at least 40 years. “There are very few places I’ve ever lived where I would call an animal control officer,” she said. Because of Roed, though, West Windsor is different.
With all of the high taxes West Windsor residents pay, there are some services they get that go beyond what others have. “One of them at the head of my list is the services of Bettina Roed,” she said. Bennett said the township would end up spending the same money it claims it will save.
One of the township’s 9-1-1 dispatchers, David Barberich, also told the council that he has had to call Roed on a number of occasions when animal issues were called into the police department.
“I can tell you that you will not find a more dedicated employee than Bettina Roed,” he said, adding that she even responds to calls when she is off duty — without requesting compensation from the township.
“While you may realize a modest cost savings,” the township will lose a dedicated employee, he said. “Bettina Roed deserves careful consideration before you rush to make a decision that will affect her and the services she provides to West Windsor residents.”
Emily Epstein, president of Pet Rescue of Mercer, said the quality of life in West Windsor and for the animals that live within the township is at risk. Roed, she said, works with shelters to take in lost animals, at which point the shelters assume the costs for housing and caring for the animal for the time being. That would not happen under the agreement with East Windsor, she said.
Roed is also known to foster stray animals until homes are found for them, residents said.
Hugh Hondorp, who lives in East Windsor and works for the Animal Friends for Education and Welfare organization, said he has experience working with the East Windsor animal control officer. “He is an acceptable ACO; he is not an exceptional ACO,” he said. “Bettina Roed fits that bill.”
He said the animal control officer there is also the animal control officer for Hightstown, and that under the new shared services agreement, West Windsor would fall third in priority when calls come in.
While Geevers, Councilman Charles Morgan, and Council President Kamal Khanna voted in favor of the shared services agreement with East Windsor, Councilman George Borek and Councilwoman Diane Ciccone voted against it.
Ciccone said she has always urged Business Administrator Robert Hary to find shared services agreements. However, “with all due respect, Mr. Hary, I think we can find another alternative.”
West Windsor isn’t the only municipality to recently use money-saving measures as a reason for pursuing another shared services agreement for animal control services.
Plainsboro pulled out of a shared services agreement with West Windsor for Roed’s services because it found savings in a contract with Helmetta — a move that also caused public outcry from residents there.
Under the agreement with Helmetta, approved in December, the township pays $18,000 — a savings over its prior agreement with West Windsor, which cost the township $65,000 for the same services.
Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu said at the time that Plainsboro officials discussed their concerns with West Windsor for six to seven months before making the move. Cantu said the cost savings — which average out to about $60,000 on average over a period of several years — were drastic, and that it was nothing personal with regard to Roed.