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Plans to cull deer in Ottawa Hills could be on hold for another year - or may not ever materialize - depending on the outcome of a referendum drive that has gained strength and appears likely to go before village voters in May.
Mayor Kevin Gilmore opened last night's monthly council meeting by saying officials will not stand in the way if those circulating petitions succeed in getting enough signatures validated for the matter to be placed on an upcoming ballot.
"I would hope we would all take that as definitive public input," the mayor said.
Fifteen people in the audience, many of them opponents of the cull, applauded the mayor's remarks.
They learned the council had stopped moving forward with its plan for the cull once it learned a group of residents called villagedeer.com was circulating referendum petitions.
Although Mr. Gilmore and other officials said they thought the vote would not occur until next November, Lucas County Board of Elections Director Linda Howe said the issue could get on the state primary ballot in May.
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Either way, that could put plans for a cull this February or March on hiatus for another year. Jim Walter, chairman of the village's services and environment committee, said weeks ago that the village had been advised to do any such culls in the February-March time frame for maximum effectiveness.
The referendum came in response to a high-spirited meeting at Ottawa Hills Elementary School on Nov. 23, at which 350 people expressed both support and opposition for a cull. The council, by a 4-2 vote, passed an exemption to a 1940 firearms ordinance at that meeting, a necessary step to follow through with its plans for hiring an outside contractor to do the work.
Marc Thompson, village administrator, said he has not spoken with the only known contractor, Connecticut-based White Buffalo Inc., upon learning that a referendum drive had been launched.
Villagedeer.com needs 218 signatures by Dec. 23 to get the issue on the ballot.
The 30-day requirement is based on a percentage of the number of Ottawa Hills residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election. State law requires 10 percent of that number, which was 2,177 when Gov. Ted Strickland was elected in 2006, Ms. Howe has said.
Although no figure was presented to the council last night, Rob Slater, villagedeer.com spokesman, told The Blade that the group now has more than 300 signatures, enough to feel comfortable that the county elections board will be able to validate at least 218 of them.
He said the petitions probably will be filed with the elections board by the end of this week.
Mr. Gilmore said the village administration's intent all along was to be responsive to residents who had complained about excessive deer three years ago.
He said other deer-management strategies - from fencing to an ordinance that prohibits feeding - will be revisited and strengthened, if necessary.
John Longthorne of Bonniebrook Drive said he doesn't oppose efforts to manage the village's deer population.
"We're just opposed to taking high-powered rifles and blowing their brains out," he said.
Gary-Alan Hopkins of Sylvania encouraged council to have marksmen shoot deer nonfatally with contraceptives. State law does not presently allow it, but Mr. Hopkins said he believed the council might be able to succeed in obtaining a waiver. Councilmen weren't so sure.
Michael Eisenstodt, who also represents villagedeer.com, questioned the methodology behind the village's only known aerial survey to date, which was done last January.
Mr. Thompson revealed the figure of 80 deer from that survey was generated by a Toledo police officer who did a helicopter fly-over one day as a favor for the village, after getting authorization from the department.
No report was filed, prompting Mr. Eisenstodt to question the validity of the count.
Councilmen said they did not want to spend a large sum of money on what seemed like a simple counting exercise, saying they heard of at least one other community that spent $30,000 just documenting deer.
Mr. Eisenstodt said future surveys should not be benchmarked against it or be considered an "apples-to-apples" comparison unless the same methodology is used.
Councilman Rex Decker agreed, though he said he did not want to pay for anything more formal.
"It is not perfectly scientific," he said of last January's survey. "It is anecdotal."
Mr. Decker, one of two councilmen who voted against last month's ordinance exemption, said there was no point in proceeding with plans for the cull until officials know if petitioners succeed in getting the issue on the ballot. "I think you're going to get the signatures you need to get it on the ballot," he told Mr. Eisenstodt. "When that happens, any action is going to be stayed."
Councilman John Straub, who voted in favor of the ordinance exemption, agreed. "We're not going to go forward with it when we know it's coming to a public vote," he said.
One resident, Tim Messer-Kruse, suggested the council work with other municipalities in addressing the deer problem on a regional basis, especially if it proceeds with a cull a year from now.
Ottawa Hills, a village of 3,000, has obtained an Ohio Department of Natural Resources permit to have up to 50 deer killed.
Mr. Thompson has estimated its current deer herd at 104 animals. That figure is based on results of the aerial survey last January. It assumes a 30 percent increase in the population, as has been reported in other communities.
The village encompasses 2 1/2 square miles. According to state guidelines, the village should not have more than 50 deer. ODNR has said the optimum density for deer in a suburban setting is 20 deer per square mile.
The area hasn't had a cull in any of its suburban communities since a controversial one in Perrysburg in 1998, which was called off after only two does were taken.
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