Cats take heat as dog license costs increase in Island County

Rob McCarthy, a Camano Island resident, addresses the Island County commissioners Monday concerning a proposal to raise the annual cost of dog licenses.  - Justin Burnett / The Record
Rob McCarthy, a Camano Island resident, addresses the Island County commissioners Monday concerning a proposal to raise the annual cost of dog licenses.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

Owning a dog in Island County became a little more expensive this week.

In two split 2-1 decisions Monday, the county commissioners approved two measures that raised the price of annual K-9 licenses by up to 30 percent, from $25 to $33 for unaltered animals and from $7 to $10 for those neutered or spayed.

Boarding fees for dogs that are collected by animal control officers and housed overnight at contracted animal shelters were also increased from $7 to $10 and the license discounts for people 65 and older were discontinued.

While most of the changes resulted in fee increase, some were removed. A $100 group license was discontinued as was the $10 late penalty charged to dog owners who licensed their animals after April 30.

Although this is the first time dog-related fees have been increased since 1999, the proposal was not without opposition.

Rob McCarthy, a Camano Island resident, drove all the way to Coupeville to protest the increases and lobby the board to look at another issue first.

“I’m so angry right now I can hardly talk,” he said.

Cats get off scot-free

McCarthy said he owns three dogs and that all of them are licensed. He made it clear he doesn’t have a problem with the practice of licensing, but said it’s unfair to increase dog fees when the county doesn’t charge anything for cats.

He claimed that there are thousands of feral cats running loose on Camano Island and that the board has it backwards. It should focus on addressing that issue first before penalizing law-abiding dog owners with fee hikes.

“You guys have it all wrong far as I’m concerned,” he said. “You’re up here talking about dogs. Come on kids, what about cats?”

McCarthy became so fired up that Commissioner Angie Homola asked if a deputy needed to be brought in. Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, chairwoman of the board, declined to take such measures, however, and allowed McCarthy to continue. She even thanked him for his comments after he sat down.

Rufus Rose, a regular at commissioner meetings, also spoke at the meeting. He said nothing seems to rile people up as much as issues with their animals.

“My sympathy is with the board of county commissioners, but only up to a point,” Rose said.

He said he was against one of the measures because it would allow the board to change the fee prices again without bringing the issue before the public first. He told commissioners that would only, “isolate you further from the public.”

While one measure established the new fee schedule, the other takes fees out of the code and allows the board to make alterations via a resolution rather than by ordinance change, which requires an official public notice.

Island County Budget Director Elaine Marlow confirmed that the legal change allows the commissioners more flexibility when it comes to making additional changes in the future.

Homola noted that such fees are still brought forward and discussed by the board at work sessions and that she has never approved a fee hike that didn’t first go before the public. She also made it clear that she agrees with McCarthy’s cat concerns.

“It makes no sense really that we don’t have licenses for cats,” she said. “I’ve advocated for it.”

Spay, neuter cats

Stephen Paysse, executive director for the Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation, was present at the meeting and said the feral cat problem was very real. However, an ordinance requiring cat licenses would not solve the problem. What’s needed is a solid spay and neuter program.

Commissioner Kelly Emerson declined to approve either measure, saying this was the worst time for a fee increase.

Price Johnson was in favor of both, saying she believes the removal of the late fee was a good compromise concerning the tough economy. She also said that by moving fees out of the code, fee increases could now be part of the budget process.

As for cats, she said she didn’t believe this was a good time to take that one as the county is struggling financially just to maintain the services it has now.

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