Thursday, Nov 27, 2014

Pinellas exacts pound of flesh from pet owners, airlines


Published:

Pet owners who lose their cat or dog could be hit in the pocket if the animals are picked up by the county and need medical treatment.

Pinellas commissioners approved new fees Tuesday for pet owners who reclaim impounded dogs and cats that are treated by veterinarians at the county’s animal shelter. For more serious cases, owners could have to pay as much as $150 to reclaim their pet.

The new charge is among a slew of fee increases approved by commissioners, including higher fees for ambulance service and higher charges for airlines using St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. Charter schools that use county health department nurses will be charged $85 a student.

All told, the new fees and increases are estimated to raise more than $300,000 a year, although only a small portion of that will go to the county’s general fund.

The charge for medical treatment of pets is intended to cover the county’s existing expenses for treating some of the 14,000 pets impounded every year. Of that number, about 3,000 are reclaimed by owners, said Maureen Freaney, director of Pinellas County Animal Services.

“They come in in some serious conditions,” she said. “We might have to do some serious care before the owner reclaims them.”

Under the new fee schedule, owners would pay either $50, $100 or $150 depending on the level of treatment needed.

The lower fee would cover minor care such as treatment of bite wounds and administering of antibiotics. The top fee would be for serious cases such as pets hit by cars, severely neglected animals, cases of broken bones and pets that need radiography or blood work.

“It gives an ability for us to do that care but recoup some of the cost,” Freaney said.

The cost of trips to local hospitals also will be more expensive with the county raising charges in line with the medical consumer price index. Transport of a patient needing critical care will go up to about $1,008 from $987. Those costs typically are paid by insurance companies.

There also was a modest increase in the cost of the Sunstar Ambulance Membership program available for residents whose insurance does not fully cover hospital transport costs. “Any copay or out of pocket, this covers that,” said Bruce Moeller, the county’s interim chief of staff.

The increase in airport fees largely will hit Allegiant, the main carrier operating out of St. Pete-Clearwater International, and were already agreed upon by the company in October, said Michelle Routh, airport spokeswoman.

Carriers will pay a flat $50 a flight terminal fee. Previously the charge was between $15 and $25. The airport also will charge 50 cents for every passenger screened, up from 30 cents.

Construction firms also will see changes in county fees for some inspections and permits, with some fees being reduced to bring county costs in line with neighboring communities. Officials estimate the savings will mean about $122,000 less in revenue.

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 828-6757

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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