Blame the state for increases in dog license fees

LISBON – Dog owners will pay an extra $2 per license starting next year, an increase Columbiana County commissioners are blaming in part on recent changes made by the state legislature.

Commissioners voted at this week’s meeting to raise the annual dog license fee from $8 to $10, while also instituting a fee schedule for issuing three-year and lifetime licenses mandated by the new law.

Included in the new two-year state budget passed by the legislature was a provision requiring counties to offer three-year and lifetime licenses to dog owners. The requirement must take effect in 2014, but county commissioners were required to adopt the expanded policy by Aug. 31.

Commission Chairman Mike Halleck pointed out they last raised dog licenses more than 10 years ago, and even with the increase they are still among the lowest in Ohio.

“We’re still near the bottom in the state even with the increase,” he said. Of the 88 Ohio counties, 71 are currently selling licenses for more than $10.

Aside from donations, dog licenses are the sole source of funding for the county dog pound. About 25,000 licenses were sold this year, generating $225,000, and the increase fee will bring in another $50,000 if owners continue to purchase licenses annually.

Officials are concerned about the potential financial impact on the dog pound should a significant number of residents opt to begin purchasing the three-year licenses for $30 or the lifetime license for $100. The dog pound relies on the steady stream of income from annual licenses but would have to change how it budgets the money if owners purchase the longer-term licenses instead.

“We did not want the lifetime license but the law said we must offer it,” Halleck said. “If everyone buys a lifetime license the dog pound will have to figure out how to make that (money) work budget-wise. It creates a budgeting nightmare.”

Halleck said allowing dog owners to purchase a longer license also creates a scenario that relies on the honesty of the owner. He said there is nothing preventing someone who purchases a lifetime license from simply using the license for a new dog should the original licensee die.

“This is a bad idea,” he said, adding commissioners did not grant any discounts for the longer licenses in the hope dog owners would continue to purchase annual licenses instead.

As for the increase, Halleck said some of it is needed to offset the additional expenses the dog pound will incur in purchasing new computer software and dog tags to comply with the mandated changes. He said the dog pound also needs additional revenue to keep up with maintenance of the facility.

At one time, the dog pound lacked the accommodations to keep strays dogs or drop offs for more than a week, resulting in a significant number of dogs having to be euthanized. Because of an aggressive online adoption program implemented in 2004, the number of euthanized dogs has dropped from 759 in 2003 to just 35 in 2010.

“We’ve probably went from the worst in the state to the best,” Halleck said.

The dog pound itself has undergone a major facelift over the past decade with renovation and expansion of the existing structure, most of it county funded but also with the help of volunteer labor and materials.

“There has been a monumental changed in how we do business out there,” Halleck said.