Editor's note: This is part 5 of a series of Indiana's dog tax.
To responsibly own a dog requires that owners abide by the laws of the state of Indiana. While the pet owner is trying to do the right thing, the process is a confusing mess that local officials agree needs fixed.
Problem No. 1: Where and how to pay the taxes
With each of the 11 townships in the county having a different trustee/assessor it is a problem for some people to know who and where they are supposed to go to pay their dog taxes, and if they do know they have a difficult time trying to find the person at home.
"The first two times I went to pay my dog taxes I couldn't find my trustee; they weren't home," Clay County Commissioner Daryl Andrews said. "Township trustees have lives. No one expects them not to, but it can be hard to find them when needed."
Many officials feel that township trustee/assessors need to be more aggressive in collecting dog taxes, while pet owners feel they need to be more accessible for people to pay dog taxes.
Frustrated, some residents bypass the ordeal of trying to find their township trustee/assessors and go to the courthouse. Township trustee/assessors complain that this is not the proper procedure for acquiring their funds, but Clay County Assessor Aron Royer will not turn away anyone willing to pay the tax at his office.
"I'm not going to turn away someone willing to pay the tax when I've got hundreds of tags and receipts in my office just for that purpose," Royer said. "I don't want another complaint on my hands because of a $2 tax."
Problem No. 2: Enforcing the laws
"Leash laws have to be obeyed by pet owners for the safety of our citizens," Commissioner Charlie Brown said. "Dog ownership laws need to be consistently enforced to be beneficial to the community."
Authorities incur problems when they handle complaints regarding a loose or stray animal and the owner will not claim responsibility for the dog but wait and claim the animal at the Clay County Humane Shelter (CCHS) to avoid being fined.
The pet owner can be questioned about payment of dog taxes, whether the animal has been vaccinated and if the owner has or wants to have their dog neutered/spayed when claiming the animal at the shelter.
"We have no authority to enforce the laws," Shelter Director Rick Moore said. Pet owners living in the city limits are required to pay fines before claiming animals at the shelter, but no ordinance was in place that established fines or payment procedures for county pet owners to claim their animals. "We are only able to collect the $25 fee for impounding the animal from county residents for the first offense and $50 for the second offense. That's all."
While discussing contract renewal at Tuesday's Clay County Commissioners' meeting, Moore and CCHS Board President Bill Bell discussed the option of enacting ordinances that will provide the shelter a higher level of authority when dealing with these issues.
"We need to streamline the ordinance," Commissioner Dave Parr said. Options will be announced at a future meeting. "We definitely need something a little more rock solid when it comes to the execution and continuity of these laws."
Problem No. 3: Keeping the money in the community
After two years, the dog tax funds collected locally leave the county for use at the state level and then in the fourth year are transferred over to the Purdue Veterinarian School to be used for animal research.
"I urge the citizens to petition and write to their state officials about keeping the tax dollars collected from local pet owners here in the community they were generated. The state could return the funds during the fourth year to aid the support of the shelter," Brazil Township Trustee Marcia Tozer said, adding that she believed this would be "an added incentive for citizens to pay the tax."