A contentious battle between a resident and the city over six cats appears to have been resolved with a reduction in fees.

A contentious battle between a resident and the city over six cats appears to have been resolved with a reduction in fees.

Barb and Joe Whiteman would have been charged around $700 to spring six feral cats from city animal control, but after negotiations with the city, managed to get that price down to $360.

Havelock Animal Control trapped six cats behind the Commercial Shopping Center on Cunningham Boulevard, where Barb and Joe Whiteman used to operate Whiteman’s Engraving.

Barb Whiteman had been feeding the stray cats, paying for required shots and allowing them to stay in enclosures by the back door of the business.

Joe Whiteman said as many as 25 cats once lived in the wooded area behind the shopping center but most are gone now.

The couple retired and sold the shop, but the cats remained, to the complaints of other business owners in the shopping center. The city directed the Whitemans to remove the cats or animal control would, leading to the possibility that the cats would be euthanized.

Though the Whitemans managed to get some of the cats, animal control trapped six. City rules require a $25 fee plus $5 per day for feeding and handling to get a licensed cat returned from the shelter. The cost for unlicensed cats is $50.

The Whitemans complained about paying for the return of the six cats, and backed by several residents, attended last week’s Board of Commissioners work session.

Havelock Mayor Jimmy Sanders informed them at the start that since the board was meeting in a work session that public comments would not be taken during the meeting. However, the group stayed and then as the meeting was wrapping up angrily confronted Sanders and the board.

Commissioner Danny Walsh made a motion to waive certain fees and charge the Whitemans $300 for the cats, but Sanders said he did not believe the board had the authority to waive the fees, and the motion failed to get a second.

Sanders said he believed only the city manager had the authority to waive or change fees and that the only way the board could take action would be to change city rules, which would require a public hearing.

Joe Whiteman complained that the board could have settled the situation in five minutes but instead made the group wait 2 1/2 hours until the end of the meeting. He even went so far to say that the fees were the equivalent of blackmail: Pay up or the cats die.

"We’re not going to blackmail anybody, Mr. Whiteman," Sanders said.

"You’re after the money, right?" he responded.

The situation ended as commissioners went into closed session to discuss personnel matters.

The Whitemans worked out the reduction in fees the next day and picked up the cats on Friday. Joe Whiteman said they would build an enclosure for the cats behind their home.

"It’s better anyway," he said.

He said he appreciated the reduction in fees but still expressed frustration that a situation that had been going on for a couple of weeks and needed mere minutes to solve would not be addressed by the board during the meeting.

"The idea that they wouldn’t take five minutes and take care of it then irritated the hell out of me," he said.