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Residents share opposition to possible pet tax

Chris Berendt Staff Writer

October 17, 2013

A draft animal ordinance, which currently includes a privilege license tax for pet owners, could receive its first extensive discussion by the Sampson Board of Commissioners during a budget session next month. In an online petition, many opposed are already voicing their displeasure.


The ordinance, first presented to the board as information last month and reviewed by health director Wanda Robinson during the board’s regular meeting last week, has yet to be specifically discussed by commissioners. County manager Ed Causey, in an effort to update the public and quell a number of concerns, has said the ordinance is far from a “done deal.”


“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 (the board) would want to have considerable discussion on,” Causey stated.


The privilege license and civil penalties for violation articles of the draft animal ordinance were among those sections highlighted. Robinson said the purpose of the ordinance is to promote the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Sampson County, but noted that sections of the proposed document — county privilege licenses for pets, listing those animals annually with the Tax Administrator and penalties for not doing so — were “really debated” by the committee that drafted the 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.


As of Wednesday, 200 people had signed a MoveOn.org online petition “Say no to the dog and cat tax,” calling the proposed privilege license tax “unconstitutional.”


Among the comments, nearly all of which are from people who claim residence in Sampson County, many share their opposition to another tax, especially in light of a economic conditions. Some say they are in favor of a chip, but do not think it should be mandated — others are against it completely.


“I want the whole Privilege Tax idea thrown out but I especially don’t like the chip!!!,” one woman from Clinton writes. “People can’t afford it, is the county going to pay for it??”


Others said a privilege license tax unfairly targets responsible pet owners, who already have expenses related to their furry companions.


“Do not create something that cannot be enforced and that is not going to solve the problems we have in this county where animals are concerned,” another Clinton woman writes. “This is not going to make animal owners that currently do not give their animals vaccines, all of a sudden, start paying to have the animals vaccinated. Start where the problem lies, not with the owners that already take care of their animals and some of the animals that are not took care of by other people. No to this ridiculous tax.”


“Absolutely not!!!” a Roseboro resident states. “We have been rescuing pets here for five years. We keep them in at night and in bad weather. They are like children to us and have all had vaccines and been spayed or neutered. We would not be able to afford to keep them if this tax is passed!!!”


Still other residents warn of the adverse effects of such a tax, which could lead to abandoned pets and a shelter that is inundated with dogs and cats their owners can no longer afford.


Causey said the county’s plan is to “be very methodical and very deliberate … in coming to the best possible ordinance with the maximum benefit.”


He said the board would have discussion and then solicit public input at a public hearing whose date is yet to be determined. Until that time, county officials have encouraged written comments as well as invited interested residents to submit their contact information so they can be notified when a public hearing is set.


That seems to be a ways off, at this point. Causey noted Tuesday that the November budget session, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 19, could be a forum for further discussion among the board about the proposed ordinance. Any public hearing would take place after that, but that is to be determined.


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 the ordinance, which not only touches on possible license tax and chips, but comprehensively addresses how the county will deal with dangerous dogs issues, pet ownership and the gamut of animal-related issues.


“This section was really debated by the committee,” Robinson told the board of fees. “This is a section that we highlighted because we knew there would be much discussion about it.”


Revenues collected would be expended for physical improvements to, and equipment for, the animal shelter, as well as costs associated with public education programs and activities. However, some said the effort would be counter-productive.


“Citizens are barely able to provide for their pets as it is. With a taxing on each animal there will be caring owners that will have to give up their ownership because they can’t afford to have them,” another petition signer states. “There will be more dogs in shelters and being put down.”


Many cited the economy as compounding the issue. While they understood the merits of portions of the tax, more taxes at this time was just not manageable for many, they said.


“Does not seem right,” said a Roseboro signer. “A lot of people are having a hard time trying to feed their families, keep the roofs over their heads, high light bills, grocery bills etc. In my opinion if the shelters need money, do fundraisers among other things to provide monies.”


Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.