I want to first apologize for last week. It was a busy one for me. When my phone rang at 5:05 p.m. last Thursday and the caller ID showed "Neosho Daily News," I knew I was in trouble. I'd missed the deadline for submitting my article. Whitney – it won't happen again!
This week's council meeting created an unexpected stir when the city's code enforcement department came to council with recommendations on updating our current fee structure for pet licenses. John Harrington, one of many shining stars on our city staff, had taken the time to look at the fee structure, run some calculations, and determine that those fees weren't covering the costs the city incurs for licensing pets. Given the past financial problems we've had as a city, I want to applaud John's proactive approach to looking out for the city's finances and alerting the council to this and making recommendation as to what those fees would need to be to "cover" our costs of handling pet licensing and enforcement in Neosho.
But as with everything that involves fees, the idea of raising them can create controversy. What was an exercise of allowing the council to understand the issue turned into a rather lengthy (and sometimes heated) debate on pet licensing, fines, and the like. Personally, I viewed the debate as healthy. If nothing else, it reaffirms that our city council doesn't just "rubber stamp" things anymore. Elected officials do, in fact, speak up when there is disagreement or concern.
Pet licensing and animal control is a fine balancing act for us. It wasn't too long ago that the council was criticized for not doing enough to rid the city of animals running loose and dealing with the potential safety issues that it can pose. Over the past two years, we've restored our animal control position and issues with roaming animals on the streets are being addressed. In fact, I haven't had a complaint about dogs being on the loose in many months.
But how far is too far? Criticisms are now coming up about being too aggressive on animal control. Should the city fine someone who allows their dog to roam? Should the city "charge" for licenses? Does having an ordinance dealing with pets demonstrate how government overreaches and invades on personal liberties?
But in society today, we all live by basic laws that are designed to protect us. And I agree that too often government goes too far to deal with issues they are better off staying out of. In this case, I'm certainly not on the bandwagon of eliminating the laws we have for animals. Chapter 210 of our city code governs what we do in Neosho regarding pets. Things like animals-at-large, animal abuse and rabies – all legitimate issues – are handled in this section and need to be controlled, at least to some level. But we must be careful.
Page 2 of 2 - As to fees, there is a public policy point that can be made for fees being LESS expensive to encourage more public participation. I look forward to seeing what Mr. Harrington comes up with on fees from other cities around us. And regardless of what he does or doesn't find, it's important to remember that it's the council that has the ultimate decision.
If anyone raises or lowers your fees, there are only five people you should hold accountable – your city council. But until those same five change the rules our city employees follow, let's make sure not to blame those who are only doing what the laws and rules of Neosho say must be done. If you as a pet owner want to see something change, we are certainly here to listen. If you support what we are doing, we need to know that too! And as always, if you have an opinion, supportive or not, the more we hear, the more we can work to make Neosho what we ALL want it to be.
For now, nothing has changed. More information is due to come in and decisions will be made only when we have all the information we need to make them.
Just a quick note on city sales tax revenues: February revenues same in strong vs. last year. And while total revenues are currently slightly lower than we saw last year, they are still ahead of where we planned to be in our budget with no unexpected changes on the horizon. That's good news for all of us!
Until next time: keep the faith, stay the course, and may God bless Neosho!
Richard Davidson is mayor of Neosho.