Proposed pet tax not a ‘done deal’
by Chris Berendt Staff Writer
A draft animal ordinance, which currently includes a privilege license tax for pet owners, is a work in progress and subject to extensive review by the Sampson County Board of Commissioners before a final draft — which will be open to public scrutiny and feedback — is reached.
“I think there is a lot of confusion that anything that is being proposed is a done deal. That is far from the case,” Sampson County manager Ed Causey said during the board’s meeting this week. “In this particular case, once we had a draft ordinance, we provided it to the board as board information (in September) and also highlighted in yellow the things we knew would be questionable that you would want to have considerable discussion on.”
The privilege license and civil penalties for violation articles of the draft animal ordinance were among those sections highlighted. Those sections drew criticism and the ire of a contingent of people across the county when publicized last week.
Causey said the plan was to continue to give input to the board regarding the draft ordinance and what would be involved, and subsequently get any feedback from commissioners.
“At that point the board has a wide range of options. You can go straight to a public hearing to solicit public comment or you may want to come back and revisit it in another way, to see if there are modifications or changes you want to make,” said Causey. “Our whole idea is to be very methodical and very deliberate. We want to make sure we give a full discussion so, if you choose to proceed with this, we have the best possible ordinance with the maximum benefit to the most people.”
Representatives of the Health Department, Sheriff’s Office, the Animal Shelter, Board of Health, county managerial staff and others formed a committee at the beginning of this year to draft an ordinance addressing how the county would deal with dangerous dogs issues, pet ownership and the gamut of animal-related issues. The ordinance was meant to promote public safety by addressing the variety of incidents with which those departments are regularly confronted.
“The purpose of this ordinance is to promote the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Sampson County,” said Sampson County Health director Wanda Robinson, who headed the committee. “This has been about a year’s journey working on this ordinance and meeting. We have not taken this issue lightly at all.”
She took commissioners through the ordinance during its meeting earlier this week.
Among the many parts of the 39-page ordinance, it states that, with a few exceptions, every person with a dog or cat will be required to get their pets the proper rabies vaccinations as well as county privilege licenses, listing those animals annually with the Tax Administrator. Failure to do so would bring a fine of $100 and higher fines for subsequent violation, under the draft ordinance.
Under the proposed ordinance, the records of licensed dogs and cats shall be open to public inspection. Each person “who owns or maintains a dog or cat that is primarily kept, kenneled or otherwise located in the county” should have the durable tag affixed to the collar and an implanted computer chip capable of being scanned by a chip reader, the draft ordinance states.
“This section was really debated by the committee,” Robinson told the board. “This is a section that we highlighted because we knew there would be much discussion about it. It does show what revenues could be collected because we always want to think about how we can support Animal Control and how we can support our Sheriff’s Department. It was highlighted because we felt there would be a lot of discussion about these issues.”
The draft ordinance states that revenues collected for the licensing or adoption of dogs and cats “shall be specifically expended for physical improvements to the animal shelter or the equipment of the animal shelter, for the cost of administration and enforcement of this chapter, and for costs associated with public education programs and activities.”
Causey said he had received a massive number of calls in the past week. Board chairman Billy Lockamy and Commissioner Albert Kirby noted they were inundated with comments, concerns and feedback.
“I got more people calling me about this …” said Lockamy.
“I got people calling from eight different counties,” Kirby added.
An online petition “say no to the dog and cat tax,” calling the proposed privilege license tax “unconstitutional,” had nearly 200 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.
“I know a lot of work has gone into this,” Lockamy said. “I appreciate the work you’ve already put into it. It seems like this has stirred up a lot. Let’s consider tabling this to the (Oct. 15) work session and go through it a little more thoroughly.”
The board unanimously agreed.
Causey preached the importance of transparency and cautiousness during the consideration of the animal ordinance. However, he clarified that it was the intention of the board to discuss the issue at its work session, but not yet invite formal public comment that would take away from other budgetary and regular board matters. The board would be holding a public hearing at a later date, Causey noted.
“We’ve heard your calls,” said Commissioner Jefferson Strickland. “We would welcome and encourage written comments to the staff.”
Assistant county manager Susan Holder said the county would be collecting contact information for those wishing to be notified when it came time for a public hearing on the animal ordinance.
“When we do schedule a public hearing, we’ll send anybody who leaves their name, address and email a special note about when the public hearing is,” said Holder. “We’ll go that extra mile to make sure they’re informed.”
To contact the Sampson County manager’s office to leave contact information, call 910-592-6308.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.
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