The Yamhill County Sheriff's Office has proposed a fundamental shift in the county's dog control system that would largely turn over operations to local nonprofits and emphasize returning loose dogs to owners over enforcing licensing rules.
While the existing system – which receives no tax dollars and runs almost entirely on licensing fees and fines – sustained itself for a long time, YCSO Capt. Chris Ray said the rising costs to keep staff have far outstripped the program's outdated funding model.
"The math we came up with last year was we would need to basically find an additional 15,000 dogs to license just to break even with the program … Of course that's not something that's going to happen," he said. "We've kind of reached a point where in order to balance this budget this year we basically had to red line the dog control program."
Ray said the sheriff's office proposed a new model to the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners in the last month, recommending a system based on that of Deschutes County.
The county's dog control program has been around for a long time, operated under the sheriff's office, but Newberg began relying on that program in 2014, when it cut its own animal control officer position to save up to $90,000 per year. The county has since largely handled dog control while the Newberg Animal Shelter Friends took over the local shelter.
Ray said the county's dog control program is one of the last remaining systems in the state that operates solely off of licensing fees, fines and occasional donations. However, he said it has been unravelling financially for about 10 years as personnel costs continued to outpace its revenue.
He said the county contracted kennel services to a private kennel about two years ago and laid off its sole licensing enforcement officer about a year ago to cut back on some of those costs. Nonetheless, the program still is unable to sustain the cost of the remaining records keeper, who handles licensing as well as reconnecting lost dogs with their owners.
While sheriff's deputies do issue citations for egregious violations of dog control rules, Ray acknowledged that licensing rules essentially go unenforced now.
"What is obviously clear to everybody is that under the sheriff's office with the personnel costs that are involved it's not feasible to run it the way it's been run," he said.
The sheriff's office's proposal is based on Deschutes County's system, where most operations have been put in the hands of a nonprofit kennel and the local Humane Society, while the records and licensing duties were assigned to the county's planning department, Ray said.
Under this system, he said the priority is getting a lost dog back to its owner rather than ensuring the dog is licensed with the county.
"What we're hoping to have happen is a model come into place that is less heavy on the enforcement side — the collection of fines and fees — and more geared towards reuniting dogs with their owners quickly and getting nonprofits involved that are in the business of adopting out dogs and caring for the animals," Ray said.
He said cities will have the option of continuing with the county under whatever system it chooses, or cities can start their own licensing programs.
Newberg's City Manager Joe Hannan said the city is watching what the county does next.
Ray said the Board of Commissioners will ultimately decide what to do next, but if the commissioners proceed with the YCSO recommendation, the first step will be amending the county's outdated statutes.