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Elimination of Domestic Animal Tax is wrong, says former county commissioner

A former Wilson County Commissioner believes the proposed resolution to dissolve the Domestic Animal Tax passed by voters in a 1980 referendum is wrong and vows to fight it.

“Democracy is being eroded, in my opinion,” said Joy Bishop, who worked to pass the $2 tax in 1980 and helped start the Humane Association of Wilson County Inc. which now operates under the name of New Leash on Life, in 1978.

“When a body of 25 people can overthrow the vote of the people, I think we’re in serious circumstances. I think it’s scary,” said Bishop, who served as the District 25 commissioner from 1982 to 1994.

Up for a vote of the full commission at Monday night’s meeting are two resolutions approved by both the Animal Control and Budget Committees.

The first resolution would dissolve on Dec. 31, 2013, the collection of the $2 Domestic Animal Tax assessed whenever cats or dogs received their rabies vaccination.

This tax was established in 1980 by public referendrum with the funds going to the Humane Association of Wilson County, for the purpose of “animal control.”

However, in 2003, Wilson County began operating its own Animal Control Department, first under the Wilson Emergency Management Agency and then under the Wilson County Landfill. Today, it is its own department with two full-time employees and one part-time employee.

According to Wilson County Attorney Mike Jennings, about a year ago, the subject of the 2004 Tennessee Anti-Rabies Law arose. “I honestly don’t remember who brought it up,” he said.

The Tennessee Anti-Rabies Law requires all dogs and cats 6 months of age or older to be vaccinated against rabies. In addition, the law authorizes local governments to adopt local laws or ordinances to require the registration of cats or dogs.

The law also states that any such local law must include methods for collecting a registration fee to establish and maintain a rabies control program, also known as animal control.

Those fees “shall become part of the county or municipality rabies control fund,” to be spent for the “sole purpose of the payment of salaries, for the establishment and operation of an animal control program, or for other expenses incidental to the enforcement of this chapter in the jurisdiction to which the registration requirement applies.”

After much discussion, the Animal Control Committee voted in November 2012 to ask for an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General regarding Wilson County’s Domestic Animal Tax and Tennessee Anti-Rabies Law.

On May 23, the county received the Attorney General’s opinion, which states that the “Tennessee Anti-Rabies law does not irreconcilably conflict with Chapter 242,” the private act passed by the Tennessee General Assembly that authorized the county’s Domestic Animal Tax.

The opinion also states that because the private act “does not meet the minimum requirements” of the Tennessee Anti-Rabies Law, the 2004 law applies to Wilson County.

Additionally, the Attorney General ruled, “The County Commission may, by resolution, cease collecting the tax authorized under Chapter 242,” because the private act “authorizes but does not require Wilson County to impose the tax.”

It is this action that Bishop finds disturbing.

“It still doesn't excuse the fact that they're ignoring the referendrum,” she said. “Legally, it may be OK, but it's not the right thing to do, in my opinion.”

The second resolution coming before the county commission Monday night would implement a $5 fee per domestic animal beginning Jan. 1, 2014. In accordance with the Tennessee Anti-Rabies Law, the money would go into a specially designated Wilson County Animal Control fund, to be used by that department as determined by the Animal Control Committee and full commission, minus a 5 percent collection fee to be paid to the Office of the County Clerk for the collection and disbursement of the fees.

It also changes the manner and time frame for the collection of the fees, as well as institutes penalties for veterinarians or other vaccinating institutions if they fail to remit the fees or certificates.

Bishop offered nothing but praise for the job done by Animal Control, and said her concern is not with them, but with the county commissioners being allowed to overturn a vote of the people.

“I admire the people over there, and they do a good job. I'm 100 percent for animal control and wanted that to happen the entire time I was on the county commission,” Bishop said.

“However, it doesn’t mean it can be on the back of another organization. I’m going to fight it with everything I have.”

Bishop said if she were still on the county commission, she would have sought a compromise that would have allowed the $2 Domestic Animal Tax to continue and to go to New Leash on Life, while enacting a $3 fee in compliance with the Tennessee Anti-Rabies Law enacted in 2004.

“Through the Fix for Life program at New Leash on Life, they have done over 50,000 spay and neuters,” Bishop said. “That goes a long way for animal control in our county.”

Correspondent Amelia Morrison Hipps may be contacted at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com.

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animal, Animal Control, Lebanon, New Leash on Life, pet, rabies, taxes
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