ZEPHYRHILLS — No one knows where the wild chickens that plague downtown came from. Tim Wilcox thinks they were Easter presents that grew up.
"They're cute when they're little," said the 36-year-old trapper.
But the bigger ones are a nuisance: They scratch up the yards of downtown homeowners and cluck under the windows of sleeping residents. The chickens are enough of a problem that, for the past two years, the city has contracted with Wilcox to trap them.
The city pays him $10 for every chicken he catches. In the past six months, he's trapped close to 100. He finds them new homes on farms or in school agriculture programs.
He makes the same rate catching nuisance cats for the city and works full time as a private trapper, charging residents and businesses about $80 to trap and pick up raccoons, snakes and pigs — all creatures that county animal control cannot afford to deal with.
This budget season, City Council member Manny Funes suggested searching for alternatives to Pasco County Animal Services, which he said provides limited services for a considerable cost.
Funes said Wilcox could run the operation, providing around-the-clock response to all kinds of animal complaints in Zephyrhills for less money.
"He's very capable of doing this," Funes said. "He's right here, the response time would be perfect."
The council has debated the idea, and could decide Monday whether to seek outside bids from trappers like Wilcox to provide services instead of county animal control.
With council member Luis Lopez absent at the last meeting, the council was deadlocked on the idea. Funes and council member Lance Smith supported seeking proposals, while council members Jodi Wilkeson and Kenneth Compton voted against the idea.
"I have everything in order but I guess the city doesn't know which way to go," Wilcox said.
An outside job
Here's what Wilcox is proposing:
For $38,000, he would serve as the city's lone animal control officer. That's less than the $51,900 the city paid Pasco County last year for the services.
Wilcox said he would trap all nuisance animals in the city limits, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The county traps only stray dogs (residents are on their own to capture and bring in feral cats), and its Animal Services officers work daytime hours only, Monday through Saturday. After hour calls and other nuisance animals are handled on an emergency basis.
What about shelter services? Pasco County Animal Service's facility in Land O'Lakes provides medical care and a temporary home to dogs and cats. Wilcox said he would build a $2,000 kennel in his backyard to handle Zephyrhills' animals, and he would contract with a veterinarian to provide medical care and, when necessary, euthanasia.
Funes said the city police department could take over other duties, including preparing reports for the State Attorney's office for cases involving animal attacks or neglect.
County has cut staff
County budget cuts have taken a toll on Pasco Animal Services, resulting in the loss of six full-time positions and one part-time employee. Dan Johnson, the assistant county administrator, said residents may notice a difference in the level of service.
"We're not going to be able to respond as timely," Johnson said. "More of the lower priority calls will not be answered."
But there will also be a savings: Pasco will charge the cities less for animal control services than last year. Johnson said he doesn't have a solid figure yet, but he expects Zephyrhills would pay something in the low $40,000s, if not less.
Wilcox and Funes wonder if the county is trying to underbid Wilcox's rate to keep the city as a customer.
"Sometimes I feel like a pawn," Wilcox said.
If Zephyrhills decides to put the project out for bid, it wouldn't necessarily go to Wilcox.
But he says he's a good candidate who already has a solid rapport with city employees.
The lifelong resident says he has worked with nearly all the officials at the Zephyrhills Police Department, or their dads.
He has been a trapper for the past six years, after he found he could make more money trapping than working his previous job as a corrections officer for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
Wilcox said he brings in about $1,200 a year catching chickens and cats for the city. He also makes about $15,000 responding to residents' calls around the county. And, he said, he enjoys working with animals.
So what if the animal control issue dies this week on the dais, or the city moves forward with another trapper?
"I'll just keep doing what I'm doing," he said.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 435-7312.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Animal trapper Tim Wilcox makes about $1,200 a year catching chickens and cats for Zephyrhills, according to city staff. The original story gave incorrect information about his earnings.