Whether to increase the fees for pet licenses in Mountlake Terrace and how to handle such increases going forward was a main topic of discussion at the city council’s March 12 work/study session. The council is set to take a vote on the issue at its Monday, March 16 business meeting.
Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Pete Caw explained during the March 12 meeting that the city used to contract with the City of Edmonds for animal control services, until Edmonds had to eliminate the service during the Great Recession. In response, the MLT City Council in 2010 created a part-time animal control officer position, and also adjusted its fee schedule to offset those costs.
“We haven’t increased these fees for seven years, and obviously some of the costs incurred such as veterinary bills, kennel housing, the mere fact of doing business has increased over time,” Caw said. City staff are proposing to raise pet licensing fees from $31 currently for a non-neutered dog or cat to $40 starting in 2021. The license for a neutered dog or cat would increase from the current $15.50 to $20 per animal. The discounted senior rate for a neutered dog or cat license would increase from the current $8.50 per animal to $10. The cat licensing fee is for both indoor and outdoor cats.
The proposal also includes the following new fees: $20 to license a horse, pig or goal; $5 for a replacement license tag, and a $200 impound fee. The impound fee covers the cost of an entry veterinary exam and kenneling at PAWS in Lynnwood — the city’s designated animal shelter. According to the draft resolution accompanying the proposal, the city’s animal sheltering costs have increase 27.5% since 2013.
Councilmember Laura Sonmore said the new $200 impound fee concerns her. “Most people don’t have $200,” she said. “That’s a lot of money, when we haven’t had one (a fee) before, ” she said.
City Manager Scott Hugill said he would research the $200 fee to ensure that it reflects the cost that PAWS charges the city to exam an animal and have it kenneled. “We’re not looking to make money off that,” he said. “It’s just covering the cost of having that dog go there.”
Police Chief Caw also noted that in practice, it’s not uncommon for an animal to remain in a police department kennel for several hours before being taken to PAWS — so staff can attempt to contact the owners. “A lot of animals have chips or a license. If they can pick that animal up in a reasonable amount of time, we don’t need to go to PAWS and go through that whole process,” Caw explained.
Councilmember Erin Murray asked why the city has not been raising the pet licensing fee annually for inflation, as allowed in city code. Hugill replied that the annual increase “fell off the radar,” and that is why the proposed ordinance shifts that responsibility to the city council to periodically review the fees and implement increases as needed.
“This way it won’t be missed for a period of seven years,” Hugill said. “We hope to not have that, by bringing it back to you every five years or so to adjust.”
Murray said that while she’s OK with approving a one-time increase, she would like to see future increases be tied to the consumer price index or other inflationary gauge so the council doesn’t take up valuable time on pet licensing.
“I question the mechanism of having us as the council be that checkpoint,” Murray said. “I trust the city staff to put mechanisms into place so that there is an annual review of things like that and they don’t slip through the cracks. I just think we have so many other important things to take on, I would trust that now that we’ve recognized this is an issue, that we could put processes in place to where it wouldn’t happen in the future.”
Having incremental yearly increases would also be easier for folks to include in their budgets rather than more-infrequent but larger increases, she said.
In addition, Murray pointed out that the city might have more success getting animals licensed in the first place if it offered a reduced rate for the initial license, “knowing once they (the pet owners) have that they’re far more likely to renew.”
Councilmember Laura Sonmore asked whether the pet license fee runs from Jan. 1-Dec. 31 regardless of when in the calendar year it is purchased, or whether it would run for 12 months regardless of when purchased. Hugill said that currently the fee covers a calendar year and can’t be adjusted to run for 12 months from the time of payment.
Another area of concern expressed by councilmembers is the fact the city does not yet offer pet owners the ability to renew pet licenses online. Instead, customers must pay in person at the police station, which has limited weekday hours, or at PAWS in Lynnwood, or they can also mail a check.
Hugill said that the city is looking into options for taking pet licensing renewal online, but the challenge has been that existing online services available for that purpose require a convenience fee — which residents generally don’t like. The city is looking for ways to use its own website, but wants to ensure security concerns related to taking credit card or banking information online are addressed, he added.
“Those are some of the hiccups in our conversations,” Hugill said. “Protect the data. Make it convenient.”
Going to an online system — even with an estimated $2 per-transaction convenience charge — would allow the city to both ensure data security and allow for the fee to cover a year from the time of payment, he added.
In addition to online pet licensing, Councilmember Bryan Wahl stressed that the city should be moving to ensure that “any kind of payment that we are receiving should be available online.”
In another matter March 12, the council received a report on a variety of building developments currently underway in the city, from multiple townhome projects to the Atlas 360 mixed-use development being built across from Arbor Village at 236th Street Southwest and 56th Avenue West. All told, the new developments (see maps above for location and status) will add an estimated 710 housing units and approximately 1,400 to 1,600 new residents to Mountlake Terrace, Senior Planner Edith Duttlinger said. You can see the complete presentation at this link.
The council also received information on a field use agreement for the Mountlake Terrace Youth Athletic Association, which will be on the council’s consent agenda for approval March 16. Another agenda item of note for March 16 is presentation of an annual report from South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue.
Finally, the council discussed whether it wants to move to online rather than in-person council meetings in light of recent concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak and guidelines from the governor’s office for social distancing and to minimize gatherings.
Hugill said he would research options and report back to the council on March 16.
The March 16 business meeting will be in Mountlake Terrace City Hall, 6100 219th St. S.W., 2nd floor. You can see the complete meeting agenda here.
— By Teresa Wippel