Letter to the Editor: Decision clear on 'pet tax'

To the Editor:
Nov 14, 2013

To the Editor:

County commissioners may be making a decision on the “pet tax” Monday at their monthly meeting. The issue appears a bit complex, but it is clear with some research.

It seems funding for Wilson County Animal Control is the main issue. Some of those on the Animal Control Committee want to take the yearly amount, about $35,000, earmarked through a public referendum for New Leash on Life and put those funds into county funds. Those funds will then be distributed among various rescues in the county, as well as county animal control. The county budget for the year 2013-14 amounts to $211,382,568.

There are two laws to consider. The first being the Private Act (Chapter 242) put in place by a 1980 public referendum giving a $2 fee to New Leash on Life for animal control. The second being The Anti-Rabies Law of 2004. The state attorney general’s office has said Wilson County is not excluded from compliance with the Anti-Rabies Law. Therefore, the Animal Control Committee is looking for money. The attorney general’s office also stated that Chapter 242 does not preclude Wilson County from establishing a registration program and fees for a rabies or animal control program as authorized by the Tennessee Anti-Rabies Law.

The Animal Control Committee recommends a $5 fee with all going to the county. The commissioners could easily put in place a $3 fee and allow New Leash on Life to keep the $2 voted for them by Wilson County voters. If Chapter 242 is left in place, the fees could be collected together. The county plans to use the same fee collecting method that New Leash on Life has done.

The state attorney general’s analysis said, “Wilson County is prohibited from assigning funds derived from Private Act, Chapter 242 to a rabies or animal control program operated directly by the County.’’ 

It is just simply unfortunate that some of the members of the Animal Control Committee cannot understand that spay/neuter is a huge part of animal control; thus, feeling the need to take funds away from New Leash on life by abolishing Chapter 242.

Regardless of pressure, a commissioner should think long and hard before attempting to overthrow a public referendum, whatever the issue. This is certainly a bold step which, no doubt, shall have serious consequences. I’ve said before, and truly believe, that the erosion of democracy exists when a county commission can rescind a public referendum for no valid reason. 

The state attorney general’s analysis said, “Chapter 242 Private Act and Tennessee Anti-Rabies Law serve different and distinct purposes. Chapter 242 and Anti-Rabies Law do not conflict.” 

My question is very simple. What could possibly be clearer?

Joy Bishop

Lebanon

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