Waynesboro will be the first to take a stab at updating its animal control ordinance to address what one local leader says could be up to $1 million “illegal fees” that have been assessed on local animal owners whose pets have ended up in animal shelters over the past 20 years.
City government staff will make a presentation on proposed changes to the city animal ordinance addressing the fee assessments to Waynesboro City Council at a public meeting on Monday night.
The biggest impact would come in proposed language that would allow the city to charge animal owners “with the actual expenses incurred in keeping the animal impounded.”
That language would address the contention raised by Scott Seaton, the Wayne District representative on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, who has been pushing the county government to address the lack of that kind of authorizing language in the county code.
“I didn’t find anything in the code that allows us to charge these fees. It looks like the county and the two cities are illegally charging the fees,” Seaton told Augusta Free Press in an interview last month.
The Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center has come under closer public scrutiny since the tragic story of Annabelle, who ended up at the shelter after being scared by a structure fire near her Craigsville home and was picked up by a county animal control officer.
Annabelle’s owner, Jessica Evans, said she didn’t have the money to pay fees related to her dog running at large – and was convinced to sign paperwork surrendering her dog to the shelter.
Evans told the animal control officer and the clerk handling the paperwork that she wanted to re-adopt her dog when she got paid, but her dog was euthanized before she could take care of the fines.
Seaton asserted last month that “Annabelle would still be alive” if not for the civil fees unlawfully assessed to Evans.
There is an ordinance on the books in Augusta County that allows the shelter to charge pet owners with animals being held there to charge fees associated with the actual costs of housing the animals, according to County Administrator Tim Fitzgerald.
That fee is set at $15 per day, Fitzgerald told AFP in an email.
The matter of the civil fees that Seaton has raised issue with is being reviewed by legal teams from the three localities “to determine what action, if any, needs to be taken,” Fitzgerald said in the email.
Waynesboro, by virtue of the schedule, will be the first to take action.
Presumably, the county and the City of Staunton will soon follow suit.
Seaton is adamant that action does need to be taken, not only to clarify things going forward, but to address fees that were illegally assessed to pet owners in the past.
Seaton cited an independent review of the fees assessed on pet owners shows that the total could approach or surpass $1 million over the past 20 years, with annual civil fee collections ranging from $40,000 to $70,000 per year.
“Why aren’t we returning the money to people who have had to pay these fees? If we make a mistake and don’t pay our property taxes on time, we’re penalized. Why isn’t it the same when the government makes a mistake?” Seaton told AFP.