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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, June 10, 2010

State plans to end dog-licensing database, leaving the work and funds to towns

By Zach Simeone

As part of the current budget proposal, the state may end its dog-licensing database, leaving municipalities to maintain this information on their own, though they will keep all revenue generated in doing so. This, according to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, will result in $700,000 worth of savings per year for the state.

“This is an example of the state dumping on towns,” said Knox Councilman Nicholas Viscio at a town board meeting Tuesday night before the board voted unanimously to spend about $800 on licensing software.

“It’s not just buying the software; that’s one thing,” Viscio said. “But look at the responsibility shift.”

The state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets currently maintains the database.

“In light of the budget situation here in New York State, the governor has asked agencies to really get back to their core missions, and to cut back in any way that they can,” said Jessica Ziehm, spokesperson for ag. and markets, which maintains the database. “Our core mission here is to ensure a safe food supply, which also means maintaining a healthy animal population.” Part of that mission is licensing dogs, which the department has done since 1917, she told The Enterprise.

This responsibility came out of the need to protect farmers’ smaller livestock, like chickens, sheep, and goats, that were being harmed or eaten by dogs.

Local response

The Knox Town Board purchased its new software from Williamson Law Book Company, which will help the town clerk, Kimberly Swain, maintain a town database for different kinds of information, including dog licensing. The software itself costs $300; the software support contract costs $455 a year; and installation and any training the clerk needs with the software will cost $85 an hour.

Towns will also have to send out their own renewal notices, and will have to purchase tags for the dogs. The Knox Town Board looked at prices from one company, Hasco, which sells dog tags at prices ranging from $76 per thousand to $199 per thousand, with discounts offered when purchased in bulk. The tags come in different shapes, colors, and materials.

Ziehm maintains that this change is a way for towns to boost their revenue.

“If we have to scale back, how can we do that and still provide local municipalities the revenue from generating dog licenses?” Ziehm asked. “It doesn’t completely fit with our core mission anymore, especially since dog damage claims are almost next to nothing now, so there’s been a lot of modernization there,” she said.

The state has estimated $700,000 in savings per year if dog licensing takes place entirely at the municipal level, she said.

Locally, town clerks, who typically handle dog licensing, have voiced their opposition to the state ending its database.

“It’s going to make a big impact,” said Swain, Knox’s town clerk. “It’s a big financial burden to the town, and also, there’s all the time it’s going to take for me and the other town clerks to do the dog licensing. We used to just handle the renewals. Now it’s going to be everything.”

Patricia Favreau, clerk for the town of Berne, agreed.

“I don’t see any positive except for the people at ag. and markets who decided they don’t want to do it anymore,” said Favreau. “The present system allows for a centralized database with being able to identify dogs all over the state. Now, we’ll have 932 different databases.”

The money side

There are currently two state-mandated prices for dog licensing: For a spayed or neutered dog, a resident must pay $2.50; licensing a dog that is not spayed or neutered costs $7.50, with a $3.00 surcharge that goes to the Animal Population Control Fund, another state program that will be ending along with the state’s database.

The state now gets 17 percent of that cost; in most cases, where dogs are spayed or neutered, this amounts to 43 cents of the $2.50. Of the 43 cents, 10 cents of that goes to Cornell, so the state keeps 33 cents from that license, said Ziehm.

But 53 percent of that $2.50 stays at the local level. And, under the current law, a municipality can add up to $10 for a local surcharge. Even if the town charges the extra $10, the state still gets only 33 cents.

The remaining 30 percent goes to the county, which, Ziehm said, can go towards rare dog-damage claims. “They can also use that money for shelters,” she said.

Under the new proposal, municipalities will keep 100 percent of the revenue from dog licensing, and will be able to charge any amount they want for a license.

“The $2.50 and $7.50 go right out the window,” said Ziehm, but the new law will require a $5 differential between the costs for neutered and not neutered, and between spayed and not spayed.

“Yes, it looks like the state is doing less, but it actually puts more money back into municipalities that have this dog-licensing program,” Ziehm said. “While a change is always difficult, there are opportunities in this change for municipalities.”

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