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Committee looks at raising license fee as costs climb

Taylor County pet owners could pay more in annual license fees to meet the rising cost of caring for strays and surrendered animals.

Representatives from the Taylor County Humane Society came to Monday’s meeting of the county’s Law Enforcement Committee asking for an 8.5% increase in funding in next year’s contract due to rising costs as a result of inflation and usage of the shelter. This works out to be a $4,229 increase over the current year.

“We have been really hit hard,” said Doris Kiefer, Humane Society treasurer, noting that costs of everything are going up as well as pay for workers. “They won’t even consider minimum wage,” she said, noting the difficulty in getting volunteers.

“We are trying to pinch pennies as much as we can,” she said.

Although the contract does not come due until December, Humane Society representatives wanted to bring it to the county early so that any changes could be included in the county budget which is typically worked on beginning in August.

Other requests from the Humane Society are for the county to take over covering veterinary bills for animals brought to the shelter in the first five days they are at the shelter. The county had dropped this from previous contracts to reduce county expenses. They are also requesting it be a multiple year contract with a built in 2.5% increase for 2023.

Shelter manger Scott Schultz also raised concern about the potential for a stray animal population increase as lower-cost spay and neuter clinics such as The Fix Is In, plan to shut down due to a shortage of veterinarians. Schultz said the Fix Is In is planning on shutting down as of July 1, requiring him to seek other alternatives for the procedures. One alternative, he said, would be for the Humane Society to purchase the necessary equipment for the procedures and then contract with a traveling veterinarian to come in and do them. He estimated the cost of the equipment at between $10,000 and $20,000. He said the cost of the veterinarian to do the procedures would be covered through fees paid.

“It will be difficult for everyone,” said committee chairman Lester Lewis noting that regardless of inflation, the county and local municipalities are under levy freezes which limit their ability to generate new revenue to match rising costs.

Lewis said the only solution he could see is to raise dog license fees and to implement a cat license fee for house cats. “I have been told I am nuts on that,” Lewis said of suggesting a license for cats.

Currently the county requires dogs to be licensed at a cost of $5 for spayed/neutered animals or $10 for those not spayed/neutered. The funds raised from those license fees help offset the contract with the Taylor County Humane Society.

“I don’t know how to increase your funding without finding a new source of income,” Lewis said noting that by the end of 2023, the cost to the county would be about $57,000 under the contract as proposed.

According to Schultz the shelter is currently full with cats and has dogs fostered out to area homes with two in the shelter. “Recently we have been gaining because adoption has been slow, very slow,”he said.

The local shelter also works with other shelters around the state when there is a need for cats or dogs to be adopted elsewhere.

Sheriff Larry Woebbeking raised concern about the portion of the proposal asking the county to take over the veterinarian medical bills. He said the county stopped doing this because the bills got to be very high.

“Like I said, this is a proposal,” Kiefer said. Committee member Cathy Lemke said there should be a limit on how much the county can cover for veterinarian bills. “I know they can get substantial,” Lewis said.

“I think it is fair to say you aren’t going to get 8.5% out of the finance committee,” said committee member Ray Soper.

This brought back the suggestion of generating more income through raising the fee. While state law doesn’t allow the county to create new fees, they would have the ability to increase the existing license fee and potentially expand it to include cats.

Committee member Lori Floyd favored an increase in the dog license fee by $5 for both levels. She was less supportive when it came to cats noting the feral cats that live in her barn.

“I would license my companion cat in my house,” she said, however noting that her cat does not wear a collar.

According to Woebbeking the deputies would typically only ask for proof of license if the animal had injured someone else, such as in a dog biting someone. He said having a collar wasn’t a concern with law enforcement.

Currently the county collects about $18,000 in dog license fees. The rough estimate was that increasing that amount could raise between $10,000 and $12,000 additional dollars, which would be enough to cover the increase as well as potentially help with the purchase of equipment for spaying and neutering the animals.

Lemke compared the cost of a license to buying a gallon of gas. She noted that people treat their dogs like they treat their children. In that perspective she asked what is $5 or $10. “We need the money,” she said.

As far as licensing cats, Lewis said he recognized that barn cats were unlikely to get licensed, but that people who have a house cat who stays in the house may be willing to pay it.

Rather than take formal action on changing the pet licenses, committee members directed finance director Larry Brandl to crunch the numbers and see what could be generated with different options. They also asked for the Humane Society representatives to come back with a set dollar amount for the year for veterinarian expenses.

In other business, committee members:

_ Approved sending a formal resolution to the county board requesting spending $295,000 from federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for new radios for the sheriff’s department.

_ Joined with ambulance manager John Deal in commending Deb Gallet of Gilman for 32 years of service as an EMT. “In those 32 years I worked with some amazing people,” she said.

_ Received an update on jail population. The jail is currently at 37 inmates with 17 of those from Marathon County. Woebbeking said they have been in talks with Dane County about accepting 20 to 30 inmates from there. He said the inmates would be tested for COVID before being brought to the county.