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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 23, 2010

Town face dog dilemma as state no longer licenses

By Zach Simeone

WESTERLO — The town has to decide what to do about its 400 licensed dogs. Whether town councilmen want to license dogs for free, forbid them in town completely, or find an option somewhere in between, they have to decide by Jan. 1. The same holds for municipalities across the state.

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets will be terminating its dog-licensing database then, leaving municipalities to maintain this information on their own, though they will keep all revenue generated in doing so. This, according to Ag. and Markets, will result in $700,000 worth of savings per year for the state.

Since a municipality can set the fee for licensing dogs, Agriculture and Markets maintains that this is a good way for towns to boost their revenue, though members of local government in the Hilltowns have voiced their opposition; Knox Councilman Nicholas Viscio has said, “This is an example of the state dumping on towns.” (For the full story, go online to www.altamontenterprise.com, and look under Hilltown archives for June 10, 2010.)

Licensing data that municipalities had previously sent to Ag. and Markets has not been lost, though. Between now and Jan. 1, 2011, towns can retrieve all of their data, whenever they want.

“We’ve gotten tons of requests for that already; it’s been super easy, and it’s been very useful for those towns,” said Jessica Ziehm, a spokesperson for Agriculture and Markets. “We are actually doing that every day.”

In the current law, which expires at the end of the year, there are 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, and “they can also use that money for shelters,” she said.

Under the new law, municipalities will keep 100 percent of the revenue from dog licensing, and will be able to set their own fees for a license, but the new law will require a $5 differential between the costs for neutered and not neutered, and between spayed and not spayed.

A resident at this month’s Westerlo Town Board meeting asked if towns are allowed to offer free dog licensing.

“Sure, if they want to eat the whole cost,” Ziehm said of towns. “They would have to collect that $5,” she said of the differential, “which is not part of the license fee; it’s a surcharge on the license.”

Municipalities will have to create their own local laws to deal with dog licensing, and the department has provided a model law for towns to follow, if they are looking for a template.

Those at the meeting also questioned the possibility of not licensing dogs in town, thereby not allowing dogs in town, though no one actually proposed that the town do this.

“Our vets said that, if a municipality wants to say that there are no dogs allowed, and therefore, they don’t need to have a licensing program, then that’s their prerogative,” Ziehm said.

Further, any penalty for owning an unlicensed dog is to be determined by the municipality.

“That dog could actually be seized by the dog control officer,” said Ziehm of an unlicensed dog. “That’s how it is now…Some municipalities are very strict about dog licenses, and others are more lax.”

In the current law, there is maximum penalty of $25; in the new law, $25 will be the minimum.

“Still, a judge would have to assess the fine, but it’s no less than $25 for an unlicensed dog,” said Ziehm. “There’s also an impoundment penalty, to be not less than $10 for the first time, and not less than $20 for the second, and it’s $3 dollars a day after the second one.”

Town hall funds

Regardless of who wins this fall’s state legislature races, the town is still to get promised state funds for its new town hall, according to the governor’s office and the assemblyman that got them one of the grants.

The town is expecting a total $225,000 in grant funding from Senator Neil Breslin and Assemblyman John McEneny for the purchase and renovation of the Westerlo School, which will be converted into the new town hall.

The town voted this spring to purchase the building from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District for $145,000.

The town is not currently in possession of that funding, though, as it will be obtained on a reimbursement schedule.

Both McEneny and Breslin are being challenged in the November elections, and one town resident expressed concerns at this month’s town board meeting that the town’s ability to get the grants would be affected by McEneny and Breslin’s re-election.

“I’d love to say that they’d be gone if I weren’t elected, but that’s not the case,” McEneny joked. “Capital money is bonded money that’s been safe; none of it’s threatened. It’s a done deal; we’ve done all the papers. My election or lack thereof would have no effect on that.”

Jessica Bassett at Governor David Paterson’s office agreed.

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“Appropriations aren’t associated with a particular person; they have their own lifespan,” Bassett explained. “As long as there’s a live appropriation, the organization can pursue the funding regardless of whether the elected official is still holding office.”