Not every action of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners is a smart one; however, at a Monday, June 17 work session, the commissioners were unanimously blessed with a solid helping of common sense – as well as with some compassion for the elderly cats and dogs now being housed at the Guilford County animal shelter.

A discussion kicked off by Commissioner Pat Tillman led to the board unanimously making a decision that will help the senior cats and dogs being held in the shelter.

At the work session, the board struck down two large fee increases proposed in the county manager’s recommended budget and instead left the adoption fees for senior cats and dogs where they were. If they hadn’t done so, Guilford County was on a path of implementing dramatic increases that would have created a barrier to adoption for the hardest animals to place – especially in these difficult economic times.

Guilford County Manager Mike Halford has been trying to generate additional revenue in a budget year when the county commissioners have instructed him to bring them a recommended budget with no increase in the property tax rate. So Halford looked toward raising fees for county services to produce extra revenue.

Nobody likes fee increases, but two of the fees Halford increased in his budget drew quite a bit of ire from animal lovers in the community.

Halford’s budget proposal called for the county to raise the fee for adopting senior cats by 500 percent and to double the fee for adopting senior dogs. The fee for senior cat adoptions would move from $10 to $50 while the fee for senior dog adoptions would increase from $25 to $50.

Those are some of the most difficult animals for the shelter to place, and, while county staff saw this as a chance to make some more money off of those animals – as well as bring Guilford County’s adoption fees more in line with the adoption fees of similarly situated counties around the state – the commissioners all said it didn’t make sense to them.

Raising the adoption fee on senior animals at the shelter seems like a bad idea on many levels.

For one thing, it would almost certainly cost the county money rather than save money.

While there might be a slight uptick in the adoption fee revenue line on the books, it would also mean that these senior animals would spend longer stretches of time in the shelter – or never get adopted – and that would mean that, every day, Guilford County would have to spend money providing medical care for the animals, feeding them, housing them and paying staff to bathe them, etc.

The fee increases would mean more animals in cages and fewer in happy homes.

Also, by raising the fees, the commissioners would appear to many county residents to be like a group of Cruella De Vils. Guilford County especially has a serious obligation to be kind to the animals in its care after the shocking animal cruelty scandal at the Guilford County animal shelter in 2015.

Tillman pointed out at the meeting that there’s a lot of data showing that what someone pays to adopt a cat or dog doesn’t equate to that person’s ability to love that animal or take care of the animal.

“I really am compelled to bring this back up,” Tillman said of the fee increases at the June 17 meeting.

He suggested doing what many other shelters do: have an affordable fee but also ask for an additional donation at the time of adoption so that people who can afford to give a donation will help cover that lost revenue.

“I just feel like the fee can be punitive, Tillman said, adding that increasing the fees might mean more euthanized animals.

Tillman also said that elderly people who want a companion are often on a fixed income.

“So, it seems like a double-edged sword,” Tillman said of hiking the fees.

Commissioner Kay Cashion also thought the fee increases were exorbitant.

“It’s a lot,” she said.

Chairman of the Board of Commissioner Skip Alston said someone had stopped him at the pet store when he was buying fish and asked if the board was really going to raise the adoption fee on old cats by 500 percent.

“From  $10 to $50 – we would have a problem with cats,” Alston said. “That makes it harder to adopt them.”

Commissioner Frankie Jones also liked the idea of asking for donations rather than increasing the fees. He said he liked the concept of being able to capture the donor base and find people willing to give more whenever they take an animal from the shelter.

“I have seen reports of how generous people are when they adopt,” Jones said.