TAMPA — With the goal of preserving animal services and quality day care programs, Hillsborough County Commissioners on Wednesday voted to raise fees for pet registrations and day care licenses.
"We want to thank you guys for looking at this," Connie Johnson, who owns three work dogs, three rescue dogs and two cats, told commissioners.
Johnson helped lead a group of animal advocates who pushed for the fee increases to prevent cuts to animal cruelty investigations and pet adoption efforts.
As part of a plan to close a gaping hole in the county budget, Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean had proposed getting rid of more than 20 positions in the animal services department.
The commission's vote to increase fees was followed by a loud round of applause from Johnson and other animal lovers.
Among other things, the new charges, which take effect Oct. 1, increase pet registration fees to $20, from $10, for animals that are sterilized and to $40, from $30, for unsterilized pets. The fees for senior citizens with sterilized animals will remain at $5.
The increase will add about $1 million to the department's budget, allowing it to preserve 10 jobs, continue animal cruelty investigations and reduce cuts to adoption programs. The budget boost also will allow the department to put more money into its spaying and neutering program.
"It's an amazing feeling," Johnson said after the vote. "How you care for your animals says something about how you treat your community, how you treat your children."
Similarly, day care center owners and associations rallied to save the county's program of licensing, inspecting and investigating complaints at day care centers by volunteering to pay higher fees.
The county took over those duties from the state years ago. Bean had suggested turning that responsibility back over to the state to save money.
"People like the local response," said Tom Papin, the county's director of children's services. "The state doesn't do a bad job, but they're spread thin."
The cost of a day care license is nearly doubling to $75. Day care providers will also now have to pay $25 to make changes to their licenses and $25 for technical assistance from county staffers.
The new pet and day care fees go into effect Oct. 1.
In other action, commissioners agreed to consider making it easier for law enforcement officers to buy guns for personal use. At the request of the Sheriff's Office, Commissioner Jim Norman suggested exempting officers who don't have concealed weapons permits from a three-day waiting period before taking a new gun home.
"It's a convenience aspect for law enforcement officers," Norman said.
Commissioners also delayed a vote on a $261,831 contract with HDR Engineering.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner said he opposed giving the contract to HDR because the company is involved in a lawsuit with Tampa Bay Water over problems with construction of the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in southern Hillsborough County.
"I just in good conscience cannot continue to award contracts to a company and a business that I believe has not taken responsibility for their actions in that particular matter," Beckner said.
Fellow commissioners, though, said they didn't want to reject the contract, saying the courts will determine HDR's responsibility for the reservoir. They voted instead to send the contract back to county staff members for review as a way of registering concerns about the company.
"That sends a message," said County Commissioner Mark Sharpe.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.