The cost for participating in Columbia County Recrea-tion Department activities is rising. Starting Tuesday, fees for animal control services go up, too.
All this is happening as county commissioners prepare for a new budget year with $7 million in spending more than last year.
This begs the question: If taxpayers are already forking over an extra $7 million, why these increases in fees?
Its a valid concern. But rather than be alarmed, most taxpayers should be relieved. After all, the rec department and animal control fees are paid only by the users of those services. That means the increase doesnt hit everyone, as would a property-tax increase.
But more to the point, these fee hikes are certainly justified.
First, the rec department fee. Members of the countys Recreation Advisory Board have heard growing complaints from the parents of kids participating in youth sports: There are too many fund-raisers during the year, and parents feel nickel-and-dimed to death.
What we have done in the past is that we would go out and throughout the year we would do a series of fundraisers to generate money for our budget, says Bobby Waters, the Advisory Board chairman. Several of the parents said, "Why dont I just give you $10, because I end up buying the stuff anyway. We thought that wasnt a bad idea.
Indeed, its a great idea - and the Advisory Board, which raises private funding to help augment Recreation Department activities, has convinced commissioners to tack a $5 surcharge onto the fee for each sport. In return, the Advisory Board will lay off the raffles and candy-bar sales - a huge relief to parents already hit up by their kids who also bring home fundraiser sales from school.
Down the road at Animal Care and Control, the fees also are going up. Were not raising them a lot, says Emergency Services Division Director Pam Tucker. Were very reasonable.
Virtually all of the fees for the facility are rising - with the ones punishing pet-owner irresponsibility increasing the most. The quarantine fee for bite cases goes to $150, up from $100; the fee for putting vicious animals to sleep goes to $50, up from $35.
One area of concern, however, is that the fee for turning over unwanted animals to the facility also rises - to $25, up from $20, with a $2 hike - from $3 to $5 - for each additional animal. As this fee rises, more animals are simply abandoned - which creates tremendous problems of strays, especially in the countys rural areas.
Even so, the increases will help provide more money to improve services for pet owners, and for those who would like to adopt. Restructuring the fees helps ensure more of the costs are borne by those users rather than by all taxpayers.
Though the countys overall budget is rising this year, then, those taxpayers should at least be relieved: Without these fee increases, it could have been worse - and they could have been forced to buy candy bars and raffle tickets, too!
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