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County talks animal control

By Caitlin Rickard crickard@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:34 PM

The Wilson County Animal Control and Budget Committees met Thursday night and, after deferral at October and November’s Wilson County Commission meetings, the committees’ discussion again led to proposed changes in the domestic animal tax.

At last month’s meeting, two resolutions were on the agenda, one to cease collection of the $2 domestic animal tax that goes to New Leash on Life and another that would levy a $5 domestic animal fee due when pet owners get vaccinations for their animals. Of that fee, 5 percent would go to the county clerk’s office for processing costs, and the remainder would go to an operating fund for the county’s animal control department.

The $2 domestic animal tax was implemented in 1980 and is a major source of revenue for the locally based organization, New Leash on Life.

The 1980 referendum passed was for the organization’s use in “animal control,” but the county didn’t operate an animal control department until 2003.

First, the Animal Control Committee chose to make it clear the fee was not a “tax,” but a “registration fee” as stated in the state statute.

Next, the committee further defined “animal control.” The newly approved consensus for the definition for animal control is “an office or department responsible for enforcing ordinances in relation to the control, impoundment and disposition of cats and dogs.”

Pertaining to the resolutions regarding the animal registration fees, Commissioner Kenny Reich again expressed opposition to the $5 fee, and he believed the Animal Control Department was a general fund issue.

After discussion of the potentially high registration fee, the committee then revisited making the registration fee, formerly known as the animal tax, $2 instead of $5. 

The committee then voted to change the proposed $5 fee due when pet owners obtain vaccinations for their animals, to $2.

According to Animal Control Committee Chair Wendell Marlowe, there was nothing in the resolutions – old or new – that said funds could be requested by any other organization.

“The fee collected will be for used for animal control, period,” Marlowe said.

Moreover, the funds would solely be for the use of Wilson County.

County Finance Director Aaron Maynard said the $2 fee collected would go into the general fund for the restricted use for animal control.

Budget Committee Chair Mike Justice said he was not for adding the $2 fee or any fee at all.

“We don’t need to charge people; we just need to take it out of the general fund,” Justice said. “If you have a responsible pet owner that takes his dog to get his rabies shot he pays the fee; but then you’ve got the guy next door who’s the reason why we need an Animal Control Department in the first place because he doesn’t care for his animals, and he isn’t even paying the fee, so you’re double-taxing the responsible pet owners.”

Commissioner Annette Stafford said taking the initial $2 away would penalize New Leash on Life.

“We’ve allowed them to depend on that $2 for all these years. Now we’re penalizing them because we’re doing something different,” Stafford said.

Marlowe disagreed and said New Leash on Life wasn’t operating under the definition of animal control anymore.

“They’re the ones that decided to do something different,” Marlowe said.

Marlowe asked the Budget Committee to vote on the proposed resolutions from the Animal Control Committee, but the motion to approve them died on the floor.

Marlowe said the issue could be brought up on the floor at a Dec. 16 commission meeting.

Additionally, Animal Control director Mary Scruggs told the Animal Control Committee the department was in need of a truck following a wreck in November that left the department with only one truck.

Maynard said they received about $5,500 in insurance for the truck, and the last truck purchased by the department cost around $19,000.

Maynard suggested the committee vote to ask the Budget Committee for $15,000 for a new truck to come out of the capital projects fund.

At the Budget Committee meeting, it voted to grant the $15,000 to Animal Control to buy a new truck.

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