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Dog licensing fees increase by 8%

Licensing Fido now costs an extra buck in Buffalo.

The $1 increase in licensing fees for spayed and neutered pooches takes effect today. But as the Common Council raised the annual fee to $13.50, city officials pointed a collective finger at Albany to justify the increase.

Even as the state hands off dog-licensing duties to municipalities, Albany is insisting on receiving a $1 surcharge for each license that is issued, Buffalo's city clerk explained. The fact that the state is no longer even responsible for mailing renewal notices is causing some to ask why Albany is taking a hard line on receiving a surcharge that has been on the books for years but hasn't been enforced, Gerald Chwalinski said.

"For the life of me, I can't figure that one out," Chwalinski said.

Will City Hall benefit even marginally from the 8 percent increase?

"No, it's a total wash for us," he replied. "We're not making any more money."

Buffalo for decades has had a tough time trying to get many dog owners to license their pets. An analysis performed last summer by The Buffalo News found that the city's ratio of licensed dogs is far lower than the statewide or countywide average. Data obtained from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets indicated that Erie County has seven licensed dogs per 100 people. In Buffalo, the ratio plummets to three dogs per 100 residents.

Is Chwalinski worried that the 8 percent increase in license fees will prompt more pet owners to ignore the law?

"It won't affect people who love their dogs," Chwalinski said. "God forbid, if a dog gets out, it will have a tag that will make it much easier for the owner to locate it."

The city has five dog control officers who work out of the Public Works Department. While the officers have the power to slap violators with summonses, officials said a staff crunch has made it impossible to aggressively enforce licensing. Dog control officers spend much of their time responding to reports of dangerous situations, neglected animals and police probes.

The city's annual fee of $20.50 for licensing unspayed or unneutered dogs will remain unchanged even with the $1 state surcharge.

"We decided to eat that cost, because we thought it was high enough," Chwalinski said.

Municipalities have the authority to set their own licensing fees, Chwalinski said. Based on a meeting this autumn that attracted government leaders from various cities, towns and villages, Chwalinski said he wouldn't be surprised if some municipalities opt to increase licensing by more than $1 in the new year.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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