November 1, 2007 in City

Pet license fees eyed

By The Spokesman-Review

Substantial pet license increases could be on their way if approved by the Spokane City Council and the Spokane County Commission.

In the city, administrators are proposing to almost double the rate for spayed or neutered cats to $15 a year. The cost for spayed and neutered dogs would rise by 67 percent to $25 – creating a rate higher than in any of the five largest cities in Washington.

A county proposal, which would affect pet owners in unincorporated county, Spokane Valley, Cheney and Millwood, equals the prices in the city plan for cats but has lower rates for dogs.

The Spokane City Council is scheduled to consider the new rates Nov. 12. County commissioners will consider their proposed fees on Nov. 13.

Officials say they are trying to balance what people can afford and what they need to help pay for an animal control system.

Cheryl Mitchell, former chairperson of the animal law section of the Washington State Bar Association, said the proposed rate increases are too much, especially in Spokane where median incomes are lower than in Seattle.

“People will just stop licensing their animals,” Mitchell said.

Mayor Dennis Hession said he doesn’t necessarily support the proposed license rates his staff forwarded to City Council for consideration.

“These are just ruminations,” Hession said. “The story here is not about trying to charge people more. It may be that we will, but it may not be.”

He said he would prefer to increase compliance rates with licensing laws using incentives and rising fines for noncompliance.

County and city leaders say they are close to agreeing to consolidate animal control services starting in 2010.

Two years ago SpokAnimal C.A.R.E., the organization that contracts to perform animal control within Spokane city limits, notified the city that it no longer wanted the contract.

Since then, city leaders have debated what to do, with some members of City Council arguing for consolidation. Hession, although favoring consolidation, said the county’s system was too expensive.

In the last year, however, SpokAnimal demanded that the city increase the monthly fee it gets from $17,000 a month to $50,000 a month. Because SpokAnimal’s contract allows it to keep fees generated from licenses, that made their service about as expensive as joining the county, said Dave Steele, who has worked on animal control issues for the city. He added that SpokAnimal collects about $600,000 a year in fees.

Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke said the SpokAnimal contract price appeared to spark the city to action.

“Until the time that SpokAnimal significantly increased their rates, the city continued to look for other options for animal control and seemed somewhat disinterested,” Mielke said.

Hession said SpokAnimal’s price increase had nothing to do with the consolidation agreement. He said it was a result of the county coming down in price.

Mielke said the estimate the city would pay for an expanded shelter has fallen, but costs for providing service to Spokane were based on the prices quoted to Spokane Valley nearly a year ago.

“We want to continue doing it right,” he said. “We’re not going to lower the standards to make a regional approach work.”

Spokane’s current contract with SpokAnimal ended Wednesday. The City Council will consider a 26-month contract with the organization later this month that would serve the city until the county takes over in January 2010. The new monthly rate would be $52,000 a month, but the city would no longer pay for SpokAnimal’s fuel costs.

The consolidation plan would require the city to pay about $2.7 million to expand the county’s shelter.

Steele, who is the city’s real estate manager, said if higher rates are approved, the city will keep 75 percent of the increased pet license fees, which it will use toward the expansion. SpokAnimal would keep the rest of the increase.

Nancy Hill, director of the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, said the county rate increases are not related to consolidation. They are needed to keep up with costs. The change also will allow it to better fund its neutering and spaying voucher program, which has had recent funding difficulties.

Consolidation is good news for pet owners, in part, because those who lose a pet only will have to check one shelter, Hill said.

“A regional program is going to be good for the people and the pets and the community,” Hill said.

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