Council OKs dog license fee hike

LIHUE — A divided Kauai County Council approved Wednesday substantial increases to dog license fees and a new schedule of penalties for loose dogs.

 The action aims to reduce a $300,000 gap between county funding and the cost of services the nonprofit provides to the county.

“They have been coming here and telling us for about five or four years that their fundraising is subsidizing county-contracted operations,” Councilman Tim Bynum said. “And in those years they didn’t receive any increases, we basically said, ‘Thank you very much.’”

Bill 2490 increases the price of two-year licenses for dogs that have not been spayed or neutered from $6 to $50. Two-year licenses for altered animals will increase from $2 to $15.

The bill also introduces a schedule of penalties for the seizure and redemption of dogs, ranging from $20 to $65, depending on the number of offenses and whether the dog is unaltered.

“I’m very pleased that it has passed,” KHS Executive Director Penny Cistaro said in a phone interview later in the day.

The increased dog license fees are reasonable, Cistaro said, who added that the new loose dog fees put responsibility back on the people using the service by charging them impound and boarding fees.

An earlier version of the bill proposed to erase an exemption for hunters in the current law, which lets them pay $6 for their first dog and $2 for each subsequent dog, regardless if the dogs have been spayed or neutered.

The amended bill approved Wednesday reinstates the provision that gives a break to hunters, but they will also pay higher fees.

Hunters who hold a hunting license will pay $15 for the first dog and $7 for each additional dog without penalties for not spaying or neutering the dogs.

Without this provision, Bynum said the bill would have made a very dramatic impact on hunters, who provide important services to the community by controlling the feral pig population and work closely with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Earlier this year, the council approved $760,000 (including $65,000 for the spay and neuter program) for KHS for fiscal year 2014, which started July 1 and ends June 30.

Though this year’s county-funding reflected a $100,000 increase from last year, the contract with KHS is still more than $300,00 short of the $1.1 million that Cistaro said the nonprofit spends on county services each year.

“Between the licensing, the board fee and the impound fee we anticipate, now three months into the (fiscal) year, it will be about $100,000 or $120,000 (additional funding),” Cistaro said.

For the following year on, the new fees will bring a projected annual increase of about $170,000, she said.

Some council members and public speakers criticized the bill for discriminating against dog owners. There are no license fees for cat owners, even though the nonprofit spends about $366,000 on cats each year.

Additionally, the county of Kauai is mandated by state law to contract with KHS for animal services related to dogs only.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said she would commit to introduce a bill before the end of the year to set license fees for cats, and already has a draft proposal from Cistaro.

Split decision

The council’s decision was split. Council members Mel Rapozo and Ross Kagawa did not support the bill. Council Chair Jay Furfaro left earlier in the meeting and didn’t vote.

Rapozo said a $50 fee for a dog is “very substantial.”

The county’s obligation is to contract with KHS for dog services only, he said, and anything beyond that should be in a separate contract and go out to bid, because there might be other organizations that may provide cheaper services.

“I want to make sure we are getting the best bang for our buck, ‘cause it’s taxpayers’ money that we are using,” Rapozo said.

The Humane Society on Oahu has a $2 million contract with the City and County of Honolulu, which has a million inhabitants, compared to Kauai’s 67,000 population and $1.1 million contact with KHS, he said.

Like any county department, Rapozo said he would like to know if the county money is being spent properly, so he said he would ask the county Finance Department to do an analysis of the contract between the county and KHS.

Kagawa said this issue is about fairness to dog owners.

He said he is more than willing to pay $50 for his dog’s license, but is not willing to impose this fee on other dog owners.

Councilman Gary Hooser said the bill is a fair, equitable proposal, and the council “should move it forward and not give more drama than it needs.”

“Animal control is a necessary government function,” Yukimura said. “If we didn’t control stray dogs and feral cats or pick up dead carcasses there would be health hazards of all kinds as well as inconveniences.”

She said KHS is doing a much more cost-effective job than the county could, though she was “somewhat troubled” by Rapozo’s reports of complaints against the nonprofit.

Rapozo said earlier in the meeting that he received complaints about the nonprofit staff not answering calls, not returning phone messages and refusing to pick up abandoned dogs unless they were hurt.

Yukimura said she believes Cistaro, who assumed the position earlier this year, is someone who will face these complaints head-on.

“I think we need to give her a chance,” said Yukimura.

According to a new contract with the county, Cistaro said KHS will now be the administrator of the dog license fees, whereas in the past the nonprofit was merely a point of sale.

“We will be more proactive,” she said. “We will be sending out renewal notices when licenses expire and we will be more active with how we are getting people to license their animals.”

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or lazambuja@thegardenisland.com

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