The special fund that pays for dog law enforcement in Pennsylvania is on the verge of becoming insolvent.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a special report Thursday which highlighted the need to increase the cost of a dog license, which has remained unchanged since 1996.
These fees – currently set at $8.50 per dog or $6.50 if spayed or spayed – are the primary sources of funding that fund the operating costs of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, which operates on a self-funded basis.
“The special report I’m releasing today highlights a significant issue facing the office,” DePasquale said at a Capitol press conference. “He could run out of money this summer.”
Already, the office has reduced the number of dog guards it employs to 41, from 53 six years ago. It also postponed some critical computer upgrades. While licensing fees have remained the same, office manager Kristen Donmoyer said staffing and operating costs have increased 112% over the past 24 years.
This makes it increasingly difficult for office staff to carry out their responsibilities, which include inspecting more than 2,600 state kennels twice a year, investigating kennel complaints, l investigating reports of dog bites, monitoring dangerous dogs, returning stray dogs to their owners. , and more.
“Only an increase in dog license fees will solve the problem,” said Donmoyer, who joined DePasquale on stage with Capitol Police officer Sharon Capello, Capitol community service dog Cappy and deputy department secretary of Agriculture Fred Strathmeyer.
Legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate that would raise dog license fees to $10 a year and $49 for a lifetime license, with lower rates for seniors. This would allow the Department of Agriculture to make adjustments to these rates as needed in the future, instead of requiring legislative action to do so. Additionally, it would require dog owners to purchase a license earlier in a dog’s life, when it is 8 weeks old instead of the current 12 weeks.
Another one bill passed the House in January by a vote of 196 to 0, seeks to end the transfer of the bulk of the fines and penalties the office collects for dog law violations to the state court computer fund. Each year, Donmoyer said that amounts to $200,000 diverted to the courts while the office keeps about $69,000.
“We hope the General Assembly will raise fees and provide the funding we need to continue to protect Pennsylvania puppies and dogs, protect consumers who fall victim to illegal kennel operators, and protect our communities from dogs. dangerous and wandering,” Donmoyer said.
But the courts are renouncing to withdraw these dollars to support its computer system.
“The current funding structure provides the non-tax resources needed to operate Pennsylvania’s computerized court system,” said Stacey Witalec, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Courts Administrative Office.
She said the computer system facilitates the collection of fines and restitution to local communities and victims of crime. It provides the functions necessary to implement the state’s Clean Slate Act which seals criminal records from public view and intercepts lottery winnings and tax returns to take care of all outstanding obligations ordered by the court. And it serves as a tool used by law enforcement to track cases and as a warrant management system.
But without an increase in funding for dog law enforcement, DePasquale said he would expect the bureau to be forced to continue doing its job, just not as carefully as it would like. With this, they could not only do these tasks better, but also resurrect the practice of giving grants to shelters that take in stray dogs.
His special report, which he said he would conduct last summer, follows a 2013 audit of the Office of Dog Law Enforcement that identified poor financial management, lax leadership and a lack of intentional application. DePasquale reported that the office is “running better” now, but the funding issue is leaving dog sitters stretched thin.
Donmoyer said 1.3 million dogs in the state are licensed; however, another million are not.
Raising licensing fees could help reduce that unlicensed number, said Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania state director for the Humane Society of the United States.
“As we have the funding and we can increase the number of guardians, they can start community canvassing campaigns,” she said. “This is going to give us the opportunity to get out into the community and educate our communities about the benefits and importance of allowing your pets.”
Owners of dogs caught without having a license for their dog can face a maximum fine of $300, plus court costs.
So not only is buying a license cheaper than the fine, DePasquale said, “licensing a dog can help you get that animal back to you if it should run away.” .
*This story has been updated to include comments from the Pennsylvania Courts Administrative Office spokesperson.
Jan Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.
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