NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. -- Neptune Beach city leaders may consider legal action against the city of Jacksonville in a dispute over the inter-local agreement that has been in place for 31 years.
Dozens of cats were found living in what Neptune Beach officials say were "terrible" conditions earlier this month.
Police were alerted to the home of an elderly woman on July 7. Their intent was to perform a welfare check, but they also found more than 34 cats inside.
Neptune Beach Police tell Action News that officers were forced to wear haz-mat gear to assist the woman. The home, they say, was covered in feces and urine, and smelled of ammonia.
"It was a disaster," says Dr. Mary Cleary, a local veterinarian who helped lead the rescue and examined each of the animals. "You literally couldn't breathe inside the home. Each animal had respiratory congestion, some of them were wheezing, and some were short of breath. They had water and were fed, but the air quality wasn't safe for anything living."
Neptune Beach police condemned the home, and temporarily Baker acted the woman according to Police Chief David Sembach.
Cleary says the cats, however, remained at risk.
"This was a situation that required a team of professionals to handle."
Sembach says he realized the danger and called Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services for assistance. He was told by an employee that officials couldn't help without an owner surrender, or court order which requires criminal charges not filed at the time.
"I told him that by the inter-local agreement that was passed in 1982, he was bound to come down here as the city of Jacksonville and take control of the situation."
The inter-local agreement outlines the county functions that are supposed to equally cover all Duval County taxpayers, including animal control.
For Jacksonville City Council President Bill Gulliford, who also represents the beaches, the problem is much bigger than cats. He says the inter-local agreement has long been too vague and needs to better define the relationship between Jacksonville, the beaches communities, and Baldwin.
Gulliford says that at least twice in the past, confusion over the other local agreement has sparked legal actions against Jacksonville. Once was during his time as Mayor of Atlantic Beach.
"Sometimes the definition of equal services gets to be the real rub. The beaches community believes the agreement outlines one responsibility, but Jacksonville officials read it another way. The question of how we handle it the next time needs to be addressed."
In this situation, Neptune Beach officials handled the removal of the with help from volunteers like Cleary. The owner surrendered the cats over to Cleary, and once they were nursed back to health they were placed with local rescue groups.
Although Neptune Beach city officials have not formally requested a review of potential legal action by their city attorney, they have not ruled out the idea according to City Manager Jim Jarboe.
Gulliford says he hopes that won't be necessary.
"I hurts both sides. It costs taxpayers on both sides. It's so unnecessary. Adult people should be able to sit down and resolve issues like that and that's where I hope we end up."
Gulliford is hopeful that a new Jacksonville City Council taskforce dedicated to reviewing consolidate government issues will soon address the problem. He says a plan could be in place within the next year. The taskforce is being led by Councilwoman Lori Boyer.
Action News also spoke with Mayor Alvin Brown. He briefly discussed the issue with Gulliford Thursday.
"I'm committed to resolving issues with all our our communities in Duval County," he said, "and I'm confident we'll come up with a resolution in this matter."