Island County commissioners can’t agree on dog license fee changes

Every dog may have its day, but the time still wasn’t right for a new county ordinance on canine licenses.

Island County commissioners held a public hearing Monday, but didn’t take any action, on a proposed ordinance that would simplify the fees for dog licenses and increase the redemption fees for picking up lost dogs and for surrendering pooches to a shelter.

Opposition to the fee increases came from the people who run the county’s animal shelters; they felt the increases would have unintended consequences. The county contracts with Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation, or WAIF, to provide a dog shelter on Whidbey Island and with Camano Animal Shelter Association, or CASA, to provide a shelter on Camano Island.

Martha Huyler, the president of CASA, said increasing the cost for people to pick up their lost dogs from the shelter or to surrender an unwanted dog to a shelter would encourage people who can’t afford the cost to simply abandon their pets. She explained that one low-income senior citizen recently couldn’t afford to redeem his dog at the shelter, so a staff member offered to pay. That’s money that goes to the county, not the shelter.

“When you are asking staff members to be on the front line and actually implement this, it’s very, very difficult,” she said.

Shari Bibich, the shelter manager for WAIF, said she shares some of the same concerns that CASA officials have about the increases. She suggested that the fee for picking up a lost dog at a shelter be waived the first time it occurs, but that repeat offenders be charged.

“I don’t want to take a fee from someone who really loves their pet, but I’m concerned about repeat offenders,” she said.

Also, she pointed out that the shelter charges its own fees for dog adoptions in addition to what the county charges for dog adoptions and licenses. The shelter charges $45 per dog to cover the costs of vaccinations, flea treatments, spaying, neutering, flea treatments, any medical costs and boarding. She worries that an increase in the county fees would preclude the shelter from increasing its fee to cover the mounting costs.

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said one of the purposes of increasing the fees was to raise money to fund the dog control. Currently, the money comes from the current expense fund, which she said means that people who don’t own dogs are subsidizing the shelters programs that are necessary because of dog owners.

If the fees bring in more money, there will be more county funds available for other programs, including, perhaps, the sheriff’s office.

Commissioner Kelly Emerson, however, said she was against the fee increases and said they should all be removed from the ordinance. She doubted Price Johnson’s claim that non-dog-owners are subsidizing dog owners; she inaccurately claimed that subsidies only involve grant funding.

The fees for a dog license, picking up an impounded dog, surrendering an unwanted dog or adopting a dog from a shelter haven’t changed since 1999. Betty Kemp, manager of the general services department, proposed some increases based on a survey of other counties.

The proposal would increase the cost of purchasing a required dog license from $7 to $10 for neutered or spayed canines and from $25 to $50 for intact pooches. It would drop the $10 late fee for people who don’t buy a dog license until after April

For lost dogs that end up at the shelter, the cost of redemption would jump. The impound fee would increase from $25 to $50 and the daily boarding fee increases from $7 to $10. The impound fee would double to $100 for the second dog impoundment within a year and $200 for third and subsequent impoundments.

But in response to the concerns, the commissioners decided that the ordinance needs more work and decided to discuss it at a future work session.


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