Pet owners face higher fees

Orange County pet owners served by the county's animal control agency will see an increase in fees, the Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.

The board voted for the fee hike to stave off an anticipated budget shortfall that could have resulted in deep cuts to services at an agency still pulling itself out of years of disarray.

In the 3-1 vote, with Supervisor Todd Spitzer dissenting and Supervisor Janet Nguyen absent, the board also asked for a performance audit of the agency to help determine a clear path forward for Orange County Animal Care, which has grappled with its status as a regional agency dependent on participation from contract cities.

"We don't want to keep getting into this rinky-dinky fee discussion," board Chairman Shawn Nelson said. "What I would like to see is staff [getting cities] to commit to being in business long-term."

This week's increases marked the first time the board has changed the fee structure for services such as dog licensing and animal impound since 2008, according to a county staff report.

New animal license fees will take effect Aug. 1, while all other fee changes will become effective July 1.

Among the changes are a bump in the annual licensing fee for spayed or neutered dogs, from $24 to $27. Yearly licenses for unaltered dogs, meanwhile, stays at $100.

Increases in various pet licensing fees are expected to generate the bulk of the needed money, the staff report said, bringing in an extra $635,000, or 8.6%, more than would be generated by the old fees.

Still, Spitzer said he'd hoped to see a proposal that wouldn't penalize residents who properly license their pets.

Orange County Animal Care Director Ryan Drabek stressed that his goals aligned with Spitzer's and that the new rules aimed to encourage proper dog licensing.

For example, he said, under the new Take Me Home program, a $108 impound fee will be waived for properly licensed animals who haven't been picked up before if the owners take them home within 24 hours of impound.

Additionally, residents who fail to buy or renew a dog license within 15 days of a due date or expiration date will be subject not only to a $35 late charge but also a new $30 non-compliance fee, according to the staff report.

Ultimately, though, the changes push fees higher for residents living in unincorporated areas or in any of the agency's 17 contract cities than for pet owners served by neighboring cities or counties.

By contrast, Newport Beach's yearly license for a spayed or neutered dog is $12. Irvine charges $20 per year for one- and two-year licenses for altered dogs, but a three-year license is $50. In Costa Mesa, owners of altered dogs must pay a $25 annual license.

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