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Auditors wary of new dog tag rules

A change included in the recent state budget will offer more options for dog owners later this year, but local auditors are wary of some of the changes and in Champaign County, it may mean higher fees for annual dog licenses.

A provision tucked away in the recent state budget will allow dog owners to purchase new three-year and “permanent” tags that are good for 10 years, according to local auditors. Currently, residents are required to purchase dog licenses annually. Local dog wardens said the change will be convenient for some pet owners, but local auditors raised concerns that it could also mean higher costs to administer the program and could open the door to fraud.

“The expense is really going to be for the staff to sort all this out,” said Karen Bailey, Champaign County auditor.

The dog licenses are color-coded so animal control employees can easily check and see if the tags are up-to-date. But the changes will likely mean creating and monitoring numerous colors each year as well as additional record-keeping for staff in the auditor’s office, Bailey said.

Because of the cost to implement and track the new licensing system, the Champaign County commissioners are considering whether it makes sense to increase the cost of the licenses to help pay for the additional workload.

Currently, annual licenses in Champaign County are $14. The new system would not give residents a better price for purchasing multi-year tags, so a three- year license would cost $42 and a 10-year license would cost $140. In Clark County, the annual license is about $22, meaning a 10-year license would be about $220.

“The legislature is looking at forcing us to raise the rate of dog tags for everyone,” said Bob Corbett, Champaign County commissioner.

The new system will mean extra work for animal control workers and dog wardens, but it likely won’t be difficult to manage, said James Straley, executive director of the Humane Society Serving Clark County, Inc. For some dog owners, it would mean they wouldn’t have to remember to buy new licenses every year.

“It’s a convenience more than anything,” Straley said.

In most counties, Straley said money from the licenses goes to the county to cover administrative costs, while the rest goes to a county dog and kennel fund. In Clark County, Straley’s agency is slightly unusual because it serves as both the Humane Society and performs dog warden duties.

In Champaign County, dog warden duties are handled by the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office. Funds from licenses go into the dog and kennel fund, which is administered by the commissioners and distributed to the auditor’s and sheriff’s offices to provide the service.

“We’re happy that it’s another way for dog owners to be in compliance,” said Dep. Tony Sells, who serves as dog warden in Champaign County.

Sells said it’s more of a hassle for county auditors than dog wardens, but said there are a few concerns.

For example, Sells pointed out it’s possible a dog owner who bought a “lifetime” tag could simply reuse the tags again if the first pet died. He said county officials are looking at ways to make sure the pets can be correctly identified, including possibly linking the dog tags to microchips.

“It opens the door to more fraud than before which is a concern to us,” Sells said. “Any time there’s a loophole in the system people tend to exploit it.”

Another concern is that county commissioners must set fees for the licenses by Aug. 31, and auditors will begin to sell licenses by Dec. 1, said Karl Keith, Montgomery County auditor. That gives local auditors little time to determine how best to implement the changes, especially when it’s not clear how much demand there will be for the new tags.

“Why go through all this when there’s not been a great demand to offer these licenses?” Keith said.

In Champaign County, Bailey said the licenses will be available, but they might not be advertised as often as traditional annual tags and they may only be made available in the main auditor’s office. Annual licenses are also sold in satellite offices in Mechanicsburg and St. Paris, as well as pet clinics in Urbana.

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