Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commission to vote on Pets’ Trust Tuesday

The Pets’ Trust, a popular citizen initiative that could save the lives of thousands of unwanted pets, goes to a vote of the Miami-Dade County Commission on Tuesday.

Approval would mean that Mayor Carlos Gimenez can build funding for the trust into his upcoming budget, based on a $10-per-$100,000 property tax assessment that voters overwhelmingly supported in a straw ballot last November.

The average property owner would pay $20 a year starting in November. Residents who don’t own property would pay nothing.

The money raised, an estimated $20 million, would underwrite high-volume spay/neuter clinics in parts of the county where veterinary care is hard to find or too expensive for residents, and help the county fulfill the “no-kill’’ objective it set last year.

The clinics would charge a small fraction of the retail cost of sterilizing a cat or dog, for which veterinarians sometimes charge several hundred dollars. In some cases, the procedure would be free.

If the clinics can start sterilizing at least 1,500 cats and dogs every week, trust proponents say the death rate at the county’s Medley animal shelter should soon begin to fall because fewer strays would be reproducing in the streets, slowing the shelter intake.

Each year, more than half of the 37,000 animals that end up at the shelter die there because no one wants them. The “no-kill’’ goal is to reduce euthanasia to 10 percent.

In the long run, the Pets’ Trust will save money, organizers say. It costs around $300 to euthanize an animal because it must be cared for during the mandatory five-day holding period that gives owners a chance to reclaim, which few do.

In contrast, spaying and neutering costs $65.

The nonbinding proposal on the November ballot got 500,000 votes — 65 percent of all votes cast — a proportion that amazed and delighted proponents who figured it might squeak by.

That margin gives trust organizers confidence that the County Commission will follow through. Still, they’ve been meeting one-on-one with commissioners since the Public Safety and Animal Services Committee voted May 15 to send the proposal to the full panel.

“Hopefully, they will listen to what the people say they want,’’ said trust co-founder Michael Rosenberg, a Kendall businessman.

He estimates it will take about five years before the county begins seeing the results.

The money raised won’t become part of Animal Services’ budget, but the county agency could apply for funding for special projects.

A volunteer board would decide what groups that provide rescues, behavior-modification programs, neuter-spay services and responsible pet-ownership courses would get grants.

The trust’s “action plan,’’ which the commission would adopt on a “yes’’ vote, earmarks 95 percent of the funding for programs, 5 percent for administrative costs.

Voters would decide periodically whether to maintain the assessment, or to let it expire.

The most vocal opposition to the plan has come from the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association, on the grounds that the money might be misspent, and that instead of establishing new clinics — most likely customized trailers — it should subsidize low-cost surgery at existing veterinary hospitals.

Trust co-founder Rita Schwartz, who operates a South Miami furniture consignment store, said that the action plan mandates proper oversight.

“After this passes, this is the only way the money will be spent, on the animals,’’ she said. “Any other way, we defeat the purpose of what we’ve done.’’

Correction: This story, which appeared online June 3 and in print June 4, gave the mistaken impression about how money might flow to the Animal Services Department. Some of the money from a possible tax increase would be earmarked for the department, some for rescue groups. An advisory board will examine grant proposals from community groups and offer recommendations to the commission, which will decide which ones to fund. The commission would review the spending plan periodically and vote to end it or extend it.

Also, the item on the county’s agenda June 4 was not the Pets’ Trust proposal, but instead a “No Kill” plan put together by Alex Munoz, director of the county’s Animal Services Department.

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