FOREST CITY | The Forest City City Council voted 6-0 to approve the first of three readings of a revised animal ordinance as presented on Dec. 3, despite objections from residents to the proposed pet licensing fees.
The city wants to require residents to register their dogs and cats, with a lifetime fee of $10 for animals that have been micro-chipped, a procedure where an identity chip that can be read with a scanner is inserted under the skin.
The proposed fee for animals that haven't been chipped is $60.
City officials want to impose a higher registration fee for non-chipped animals to encourage residents to have their dogs and cats chipped.
Although all registered pets would receive a tag with a license number on it, chipping makes it easier for the police to reunite owners with animals that pull their tagged collar off while escaping, said City Councilman Ron Holland.
However, several people in the standing-room-only crowd at City Hall questioned the fee structure and other parts of the proposed ordinance.
Leslie Torkelson said micro-chipping a pet costs around $50, meaning residents who haven't already had their animals chipped will be paying $60 per animal whether they choose chipping or not.
"But for the same price you are 90 percent guaranteed to get your animal back by getting it micro-chipped," said City Administrator Barb Smith.
However, the fees add up when people have more than one pet, according to Torkelson.
"Not everyone in this town can afford to pay for this," she said.
Torkelson said one of her neighbors, who has three cats and a dog -- all of them unchipped -- would have to pay $240 to get all her pets licensed.
The neighbor doesn't have the money to pay that amount all at once, Torkelson said.
Robin McCloskey, who lives near Clark's Woods, said she has seen people dump animals there.
She said she's afraid even more dogs and cats will be abandoned because their owners can't afford the registration cost.
McCloskey said she's taken a few of the dumped animals into her home and paid for them to be spayed or neutered and vaccinated, but doesn't want to pay an additional $60 for each for them.
Torkelson cited studies that show micro-chipped mice are more likely to develop tumors.
"I won't chip my animals," said Marcia Tweeten, another Forest City resident. "I won't do that to them. One of them has already had cancer."
Many cities in Iowa close to the size of Forest City charge much lower pet registration fees, which are paid annually and are based on whether an animal is spayed or neutered instead of whether they are chipped, according to Torkelson.
For example, Hampton charges a $3 fee for each spayed or neutered dog or cat, and $5 for each unaltered pet, while Adel has fees of $10 for altered pets and $20 for unaltered ones.
Holland said lowering the licensing fee for those with spayed or neutered pets is something the council might want to consider.
Bill Crawford asked if pets that are leashed or kept inside at all times would have to be registered. Smith said they would.
When Crawford asked what the city would do with the registration fee money, Smith said the funds would go toward record-keeping, buying tags and the costs to keep animals until their owners can be found.
Mayor Barney Ruiter said if pet owners aren't charged a registration fee, those costs would have to be paid through taxpayer dollars.
Smith said if an unlicensed dog or cat is found running loose, the city would fine the owners for having an animal at large as well as a fine for not having their pet registered.
If a licensed pet is picked up, the police might not fine the owner for having an animal at large -- at least for the first infraction, according to Smith.
City Councilman Karl Wooldridge made a post on his Facebook page on Dec. 2 explaining the revised animal ordinance and inviting the public to ask questions or post their thoughts.
Wooldridge wasn't at the Dec. 3 meeting because he was out of town, but Tweeten said she read the more than 100 responses to his post.
She noted Britt Mayor Ryan Arndorfer wrote a response describing that city's policy on animals at large.
The city of Britt doesn't charge a registration fee for pets. Instead, animals at large that are not aggressive or dangerous are brought to City Hall, where a kennel and treats are available.
Pictures of the dogs and cats are posted on the city's Facebook page. If they aren't claimed by the end of the day, they are taken to the veterinarian in Garner.
In the past three years, every animal has been claimed, according to Arndorfer.
Tweeten said another alternative would be for the city of Forest City to have a six-month grace period where residents could get their pets registered for free.
One resident told the council officials they are on the right track.
"If you can afford a dog, if you can afford a dog food, you can afford a chip," said Ken Strand.
The second reading of the animal ordinance is scheduled for the Dec. 17 council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall.