New Dog License Contract Catches Some By Surprise

New Dog License Contract Catches Some By Surprise

Fairfax County to pay for contracted processing so department can focus on ‘higher revenue generating tasks.’

Fairfax County dog owners may have noticed something different when they opened this year’s annual dog license renewal letter. The payment return is not addressed to the county’s tax administration department, but to a servicing company in Irving, Texas, called PetData. While the license fee, dog name/s, and rabies information appear as before, the form directs that payments go to PetData’s address, and requests for information and questions go to their website or toll free number.

Dog owners received no direct and little advance notice of this service contract. The post-contract notice on the county’s Government NewsCenter appeared on Nov. 1, just as renewal notices began arriving in mailboxes. Without forewarning, some owners were concerned that the renewal notice might be a scam. The county’s Animal Services Advisory Commission, which serves in an advisory capacity to the Shelter Director and the Board of Supervisors on issues relating to animal health and welfare, also was not informed of the change in advance or given opportunity for prior input. Nor was notice given to the animal shelter’s Friends group, a non-profit fundraising partner of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. The Friends of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter relies on including messaging in the annual renewal notice to dog owners as a means of fundraising. Calls to the tax office related to dog licensing were being referred to PetData early in the month. The county has updated their tax administration and animal shelter website pages now with the new contact information. 

Director of Tax Administration, Jay Doshi, said the change is “intended to enhance service.” 

Doshi indicates using a third party system for the relatively small funds generated by dog licensing “allows our staff to refocus on higher revenue generating tasks.” Dog licensing represents a very small percentage of the county’s $4.85 billion general fund revenues, 95 percent of which his department is responsible for collecting.

As for enhanced customer service, the tax administration says that for dog owners registering a dog for the first time, physically visiting the animal shelter or a tax office with rabies certificate in hand will no longer be required. First time license issuance, and renewals, now can be accomplished on-line or by mail, by providing a copy of rabies certifications, if not previously provided, or if expired. Those choosing to pay the $10 license fee by credit or debit card are assessed a $2 convenience fee. Service dogs are eligible for a free license. The brunt of this tax collection work occurs within the limited window between distribution of the annual notice in November and the Jan. 31 due date to display the license. 

Will the new system save taxpayers money? 

No, in fact the new license service system will cost taxpayers more since there are no offsetting position savings. Tax department clerks will continue to staff the department’s walk-in windows and receive dog license payments as well as other collections for business licenses, personal property tax, etc. The animal shelter employees also will continue to collect walk-in payments along with performing their myriad of other duties. In fact, the shelter had already had assistance from non-paid volunteers to set up special windows for licenses during the peak period to relieve shelter permanent staff to perform more complex duties. So no dedicated staff positions existed or will be reduced at either department. 

The county will pay PetData a $4.20 fee per license; about 40 percent of the individual payer collection, according to Doshi. At the county’s current licensed dog level, over 65,000 in 2022, the Texas provider will reap over $275,000 per year, or over $1 million over the course of the five year contract. 

Will the animal shelter lose funds as a result of payment of contract license servicing fees? 

No. Doshi and animal shelter director Reasa Currier say no since the shelter is funded from the county’s general budget fund. However, since the dog license tax contributes to the general fund, there will be a reduction in total county revenues of over $1 million, unless staff refocusing on higher revenue generating tasks makes up the difference.

Are there any other positives which drove the county’s contracting decision? PetData touts its ability to increase licensing of unlicensed dogs in the county. PetData estimates there are over 90,000 unlicensed dogs here; however they offer no indication of how they arrived at that estimate. The company also suggests it can reduce euthanasia, presumably through improved identification of lost dog ownership. However, Fairfax County does not euthanize lost dogs and currently has over a 90 percent live release rate. 

State law caps the amount that may be charged for dog license tax by localities at $10 [§3.2-6528]. State law also dictates the uses to which such funds may be put [§3.2-6534]. Dog tax collections are intended to fund animal control and shelter operations, and spay/neuter and rabies programs. Fairfax County’s collection of these funds has never been sufficient to cover current animal shelter operating costs.