Manatee County officials hope pet licensing crackdown will generate money for animal services

Officials hope stricter licensing will produce money for animal services

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 11, 2014 

Manatee County plans to hire an outside consultant to review operations at its Animal Services department, in the wake of a criminal investigation of one of the shelters the county contracted with to shelter animals. MARC R. MASFERRER/Bradenton Herald

MANATEE -- County officials have hired a new vendor to help ensure people license their pets and will use any money raised to improve the beleaguered Animal Services Division.

Licensing a pet costs $15 annually, but enforcement has been spotty, said Ron Koper, the county public safety director who oversees the Animal Services Division.

"Right now, a lot of people are not licensed," said Koper.

The county is using a new software program to help manage licensing, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said after a budget workshop at the Manatee County Administration Building.

"They're required to have a license, but we haven't been as successful in enforcing it as we'd like to be," he said.

Hunzeker estimated $200,000 or so could be raised with proper enforcement.

"The business of animal services will never be a profitable one," Koper said, noting animal control costs a lot of money.

How large the adoptions program is also affects the division's budget, he said.

Commissioners requested a workshop session on the Animal Services Division, which is under investigation in connection with the Napier animal cruelty case now making its way through the courts.

Commissioner Michael Gallen said he hoped the Manatee County Animal Advisory Board could be included, and was told it would be. The board is made up of residents who help oversee the animal services operation. A study of Animal Services Division operations is also expected to be done before next year.

"There probably will be recommendations on how to do this better, and a partner to help with adoptions," Hunzeker said, referring to a plan to partner with a private entity taking over shelter animal adoptions.

Many commissioners said they were hearing from constituents about troubles at the animal shelters, which in 2011 instituted the state's first "No Kill" program designed to reduce the number of healthy animals euthanized.

"It will focus on what we're mandated to do versus what volunteer organizations do," said Commissioner Betsy Benac. "People have a misunderstanding of what animal services does, and what is our local government responsibility." Hunzeker said the report would be out sometime in the fall.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter@sarawrites.

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