Saturday, April 3, 1999

Ag board
fee hike

A proposal to almost triple the
rates may be heard at the
Board of Agriculture's
meeting on April 29

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Controversial fees that could nearly triple the cost of quarantining cats and dogs for 30 days could go before the state Board of Agriculture before the end of the month.

Letitia Uyehara, agriculture board deputy chairwoman, said the proposed fee schedule could be placed on the April 29 agenda.

Under the proposal, the cost of housing a dog under the 30-day quarantine program would climb from $290 to $755.

For cats, the fee would increase from $275 to $755. For a 120-day quarantine, the $875 dog fee and $815 cat fee both would jump to $1,080.

If approved by the board, it would still have to be signed by Gov. Ben Cayetano before taking effect in early summer.

Last month, agriculture officials held hearings throughout Hawaii on several proposed changes in the rate structure, brought about by the way the rabies quarantine program is funded and a drop in the number of animals held for the maximum 120-day period.

Ann Takiguchi, Agriculture Department spokeswoman, said more animals are going through the quarantine station at Halawa, but their shorter stays are resulting in less money being collected.

It cost the department $1.8 million to operate the animal quarantine station last year.

The department said that in fiscal year 1996, when quarantine was set at 120 days, 3,497 animals were housed and brought in $2.2 million.

But in estimating the impact of the new 30-day program, agriculture officials projected that 80 percent of pet owners bringing animals to the islands would use the shorter quarantine period, and revenue collections would amount to only $1.2 million.

This complicated the situation, officials said, because the Legislature last year required that the program be self-sustaining, putting a heavier burden on the users.

"In the past, the quarantine program was subsidized by the general fund," Takiguchi said.

Uyehara also pointed out that the number of full-time staffers had dropped from 55 to 45 since the new quarantine program began last year.

In addition, 18 temporary caretakers are no longer being hired.

Military members who testified at a March 19 Honolulu hearing said the proposed fee hike would create a hardship and hurt recruiting and retention.

The military accounts for about 40 percent of the pets imported to Hawaii.

Under the shorter 30-day quarantine program, pet owners have to meet certain requirements --such as getting blood tests and rabies shots for their pets -- before coming to Hawaii. Animals are retested once they arrive in the islands.

The breakdown of the 30-day proposed fee increase:

Bullet $35: Registration costs.
Bullet $225: Cost of animal care ($7.50 a day).
Bullet $145: Overhead costs to cover expenses, such as operating the program and repair and maintenance.
Bullet $350: Administrative, testing and other costs attributed to running the shorter program.

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