Local legislators say programs are already in place that provide low cost spay and neuter options

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FARMINGTON — Animal welfare groups say taxpayers may pay more for spay and neuter services and animal care than they would have paid had Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation implementing a fee for pet food manufacturers.

The governor vetoed the legislation last week. She said in a press release that she could not support legislation that would impose a fee on pet food manufacturers to fund spay and neuter initiatives statewide. She said the fee was a tax increase and she could not support increasing taxes.

“I gave my word to New Mexicans that I would not raise taxes, and I intend to keep that promise throughout my entire term,” Martinez said in a press release.

Farmington Regional Animal Shelter director Stacie Voss said this means the taxpayers will continue to pay for spay and neuter programs and housing unwanted pets.

Voss described spay and neuter as an important tool to decreasing the population of unwanted dogs and cats.

“Spay and neuter is one of the only things that will help solve the problem of too many animals,” Voss said.

The programs that are already in place in San Juan County are funded either through donations or through the gross receipts tax. Farmington Regional Animal Shelter’s gross receipts tax-funded spay and neuter program has operated on more than 5,000 animals that have owners since it began its reduced price spay and neuter program in 2014.

Voss said nonprofits like Soul Dog Rescue and San Juan Animal League also provide reduced price or free spay and neuter procedures.

The proposed fee would have been charged to pet food and treat manufacturers to register their brands in New Mexico. Currently there is a $2 registration fee.

The fee would start at $50 in 2019 and increase to $75 in 2020 and $100 in 2021.

According to Animal Protection Voters, if all the companies impacted chose to pass the fee on to customers, the average household would see an increase of $1.50 each year to feed their pets.

Several local legislators agreed with Martinez' analysis that the fee was a tax increase.

Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, said he did not support increasing taxes to pay for something that counties and nonprofits are already doing. Instead, he said people need to be educated about responsible pet ownership, including spaying and neutering.

“I know there’s a lot of stray dogs and cats out there,” he said.

Strickler said San Juan County probably has a larger number of strays than many other places in the state. However, he said the programs that are already in place are addressing the overpopulation. Strickler said he has donated money to San Juan Animal League and adopted animals from the local shelter.

Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, echoed Strickler’s sentiments that people should take care of their own animals and that local programs are already in place to provide low cost spay and neuter. He said he does not like increasing taxes.

Like Strickler, Bandy said he has a pet dog that has been spayed.

“I think everyone should take care of their own animals,” Bandy said.

Elizabeth Jennings, executive director of Animal Protection Voters, via email said within three years of Maryland introducing a similar fee, the statewide euthanasia rate dropped by 29 percent. A similar reduction in euthanasia rates would save New Mexico taxpayers $500,000 annually, according to Jennings.

Jennings said the fee in Maryland has not negatively impacted pet food sales. Instead, she said the number of pet food and treat manufacturers selling products in Maryland has increased by 34 percent.

In the press release, Martinez said local governments are better positioned to promote spay and neuter initiatives. She highlighted fees and fines that several municipalities impose for not spaying or neutering pets. For example, Albuquerque residents are required to pay $6 annually for a dog or cat license. If their pets are not spayed or neutered, the license costs $150.

Aztec is the only local entity with mandatory spay and neuter requirements as well as a required pet license.

Bloomfield had pet registration requirements, but removed the requirement due to an inability to enforce it and the low numbers of people who registered their pets.

Jennings said New Mexico’s counties and municipalities spend $28 million in taxpayer funds to try to address the overpopulation of cats and dogs in New Mexico. In addition to taxpayer money, nonprofits spend $10.8 million on rescue, foster care, adoption and spay and neuter programs to try to curtail the overpopulation, she said.

Farmington Regional Animal Shelter began turning away animals from Bloomfield this month. It is currently in negotiations with the town of Kirtland for a contract. Kirtland has questioned the accuracy of the number of animals from within its town boundaries that have been taken to the shelter, according to Voss.

She said Farmington is reviewing that number. If Kirtland does not agree to pay for sheltering the animals in Farmington, Voss said Farmington will likely stop taking animals from Kirtland. That would mean Kirtland must either contract with Aztec or have no place to take its strays.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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