City to chase dog owners for licences

City engineer Jim Lowrie -
City engineer Jim Lowrie
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New Westminster is going to sic some extra staff on canine owners to increase dog licence revenue.

City council has approved a request from its staff to hire four people from May to September to canvass residences to sell licences to those dog owners who don't have them, as well as educating them and collecting data.

Engineering manager Jim Lowrie told council during Monday's budget discussions, the city estimates about 34 per cent of households in the city have dogs that are licensed, which is low compared to other municipalities in the region.

The extra workers are budgeted to cost $51,000 and bring in $67,000 for a net gain of $16,000. In addition to the extra revenue, by canvassing the city expects it will be able to get a better handle on the actual dog population and its composition.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr thinks other less costly methods to increase dog licences could be utilized instead. He suggested "aggressive" signage could be put up at dog parks putting peer pressure on dog owners and "bold" mailings sent out to homes across the city as well as newspaper ads. Currently, he said, many dog owners with licences are too intimidated to say anything to those who don't have them.

"I don't support going door to door. It would be cheaper to do [signage and mailings] now and then look at somebody physically going around in 2015," said Puchmayr. "We need to seriously look at whether this is really important right now."

But he was alone in that sentiment on council. Coun. Betty McIntosh said there are so many unlicensed dogs in the city it is necessary to have the one-to-one contact to get the compliance rate up.

Although that got the green light, another request from the parks, culture and recreation department to hire a public art coordinator was shot down.

Although public art has been part of the city's arts strategy since 2008, most of the work has been done off the side of staff desks, "with a wing and a prayer," to some degree of success, said department head Dean Gibson.

"Attempts to move forward have been somewhat frustrated because we don't have the staff to move forward on those issues," Gibson told council.

He said the efforts of arts and culture development manager Greg Magirescu and another staff member are limited because there's not enough hours to devote to it. "It's not sustainable over the long term," said Gibson.

Staff proposed the money come out of the public art reserve which is about $135,000 a year. But no councillor would back the request.

"I can't support this right now in view of everything we already have going on in the arts area," said Puchmayr.

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said, "Maybe this is something that not opt to happen [this year."

Gibson was asked by council to report back on the implications of their decision to defer the position to future budgets.

Council also approved a $55,000 cost of hiring another custodial person for its police building. Although the new office is nearly twice the size of the previous one there has been little increase in its cleaning services.

"[While it] can survive for a period of time at a reduced level, it is not sustainable in the long run and crucial areas will begin to suffer," said a report to council.

The police also got a positive response to a proposal to add an information technology position, a forensics officer and another officer to work with a mental health team. The three positions would cost $257,000, but since the city has had a reduction of $217,000 in its Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, the hit to the city's budget for the three jobs would only be $40,000.

Finance director Gary Holowatiuk told council annual revenue from digital signs, which will become operational in 2013, are expected to range from $1 million to $1.6 million. What to do with that money in the long run is still to be determined, but council did decide any revenue from 2013 would go toward debt repayment.

Before the city's five-year financial plan is adopted, the public will have a chance to comment on it at an evening council meeting in March with final approval in late March.

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