By CHRISTINA RITCHIE ROGERS
The Town of Cornelius will do away with its pet licensing fees, effective immediately, board members decided Monday.
Since the fee rules were implemented in mid-2010, standard licensing fees have ranged from $20 for spayed/neutered pets to $50 for unaltered pets, and are waved for seniors 65 years and older. In 2011, the town collected about $25,000 in pet license fees, but estimates that more than $25,000 in potential fees goes uncollected annually, as police have no way to enforce the rules.
Some board members argued that the current system punishes those who follow the rules, and rewards those who don’t, as people who evade payment still benefit from the town shelter and animal control services those fees help pay for. The town spends about $170,000 annually on the shelter and animal services.
Commissioner Dave Gilroy asked Police Chief Bence Hoyle if he could think of any way to better enforce the fees, to which the Chief answered no.
The challenges in enforcement are administrative, as there is limited staff available to monitor the payments, as well as practical, as police have a hard time proving negligence, Chief Hoyle said. If police were to go to someone’s house, and the homeowner denied having a pet, police would not have a warrant to search the house and would be unable to prove negligence, Chief Hoyle said. It is also impossible to link a fee paid (or unpaid) to a specific pet in a household, he said.
Commissioner Chuck Travis opposed the decision to do away with fees, saying they help provide necessary services for animals. He viewed them as a sort of “user fee,” and one that most animal lovers would be willing to pay.
After discussion with Chief Hoyle and town Finance Director Jackie Huffman, the board voted 4-1 to eliminate the fees, with Commissioner Travis dissenting.
Effective immediately, the town will stop taking new licensing fees, and as of July 1 will pro-rate the fees for people who have already paid.