New fees likely coming for Bibb pet owners

All Bibb County owners of dogs and cats could soon have to pay for pet licenses.

Bibb County, Macon and Payne City plan to require the fees as they try to consolidate animal control operations in the next month. Part of the latest seven-page proposal outlines how license fees would help subsidize the animal control operations, moving some of the costs from taxpayers to pet owners.

“It’s almost like a user fee,” said Steve Layson, the county’s chief administrative officer.

Those fees have not been set, however.

The proposal drew mixed reviews from animal lovers.

Macon resident Molly Stevens said the move could make more pet owners more responsible.

“I believe that’s a smart move for animal control,” said Stevens, who adopted dogs Lulu and Marley from PetSmart through local animal shelters.

But dog lover Heather Willis compared the proposed fees with other taxes that don’t benefit her or Olivia, her 2 1/2-year-old Jack Russell/golden retriever mix.

“I don’t have children,” she said. “I’m paying for their children to go to school, so they can pay for my pets.”

Macon, Bibb County and Payne City governments are hustling to consolidate animal control by a self-imposed Jan. 1 deadline. County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said he wants the county to vote on a final document by Dec. 15, after commissioners’ comments Tuesday are taken into account and the Macon City Council also revises the document.

According to the plan, most fees would be paid when residents get the state-required rabies vaccinations. Veterinarians would keep some portion of the license fees to help administer the program. Residents who go to veterinarians outside Bibb County would have to pay a fee separately, likely at the Animal Shelter. The fee would be the same in unincorporated Bibb County, in Macon and in Payne City.

Macon would take over the animal control operations, likely buying two trucks from Bibb County’s animal control unit. The Bibb County officers would be transferred to other vacant positions within the sheriff’s office. Each government would pay a per-animal cost for animal control operations, a figure that would be set after Macon takes over all animal control responsibilities.

The consolidation isn’t Bibb County’s first, as services including 911, the fire department and the elections board have been merged for years. But Macon and county governments are pushing toward total consolidation in the coming years, and animal control is the first of the planned mergers.

The consolidation moves are raising concerns, though, as County Commissioners openly worried that they could be overcharged for inefficient services through the city. But the next department targeted for consolidation is engineering, which includes public works. There, the county would run services, and city officials might worry about costs. Such fears have helped derail earlier efforts to consolidate the engineering departments.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.