City to draft squirrel policy

COVINGTON - The City Council authorized the city attorney Monday night to draft an ordinance allowing residents to obtain permits to shoot squirrels and other rodents.

The Covington Police Department has been issuing such permits for decades, but there is no ordinance on the books allowing it, City Manager Steve Horton said.

Recent complaints from residents over squirrel shootings prompted Horton and Police Chief Stacey Cotton to temporarily suspend the issuing of permits until the council could decide if it wanted to create an ordinance.

In the past, residents have been allowed to use a .410 gauge shotgun or .22-caliber rifle with shot shells to kill squirrels.

However, current city ordinance states that it is illegal for anyone to discharge a firearm within city limits except in defense of person or property or for recreational purposes in an indoor firing range. Law officers are exempt from the ordinance.

"Our current ordinance is in conflict with the permits that we've issued for so long," Horton said.

Cotton said the police department issues about a dozen permits per year. Some residents get them every year, he said, adding that one man has had one for 30 years.

"Now we have more dense housing so to have a neighbor with a zero lot line or a small lot line shooting next door ... and there are some new folks in town not used to that, so there have been some complaints," he said.

Councilman Mike Whatley said he knew of an incident on a local golf course where someone was illegally shooting squirrels with "real bullets, not rat shots" and stacking up the carcasses.

Whatley made a motion to have City Attorney Ed Crudup draw up an ordinance allowing for and regulating the eradication of pests. But Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams said the definition of pests could be too broad.

"Yeah, it could be your neighbor," Whatley said, before altering his motion to state "eradication of rodents." That would cover ground squirrels, also known as chipmunks.

Whatley also stipulated that a fee of $15 be charged for one-year permits. The permits have never carried a fee before, but Cotton said a background check is required to determine the applicant's eligibility to carry a firearm, so the cost would not be unreasonable.

The vote was 4 to 2 with Councilwomen Ocie Franklin and Janet Goodman opposing.

Crudup will bring back a draft ordinance for the council to vote on at an upcoming meeting.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.