Dogs: Everyone in Arlington seems to love ’em, but is anyone paying the required taxes on ’em?

“Arlington has a dog tax – who knew?” the Arlington County Taxpayers Association said in reporting on a recent county-government staff report noting that, in the most recent fiscal year available, the tax brought in a relatively paltry $59,664.

County Board member John Vihstadt had requested the information during a March 18 budget work session. Staff responded on April 6.

At $10 for an annual license (or a three-year license for $25), that equates to about 7,000 licensed dogs in the county, according to officials with the county treasurer’s office. But far more call Arlington home; some summer days it feels like 7,000 cavorting canines are congregating in each of the county’s off-leash dog parks.

The treasurer’s office is doing the best it can, although Treasurer Carla de la Pava said her office may not be “the logical place” for the job.

“It is important to have a database of licensed dogs,” de la Pava acknowledged. But it is something of a “circular process,” she said. “To receive a license, your dog needs to have its shots. So the vets send us a list of every dog receiving shots, and we send a letter to the owners asking them to register their dogs.”

But many of those letters apparently go ignored. “I am sure that shot compliance is much higher than license compliance,” de la Pava said. While houses and cars can be seized for nonpayment of taxes, who wants to cart a cute Pomeranian off to doggy jail?

De la Pava, whose office seldom shies away from enthusiastically collecting all the taxes due, thinks there could be a better way.

“In my opinion, a statewide system would have clear advantages, and the vets would be in a great position to add the records to the system and to monitor dogs who are their patients,” she said.

But that would result in more paperwork for veterinarians, making it doubtful the idea would gain traction among them – even if they got to pocket the $10 annual tax for doing the work.

That fee could be raised by the General Assembly, although it doesn’t take a political-science major to figure out how tax-averse many Richmond legislators are. And if the idea to raise the tax comes from County Board members in Arlington? Given the strained relations, that could be two strikes right off the bat.

However, a bid to increase the annual fee charged has an unusual ally, which takes us back to the Arlington County Taxpayers Association.

In a Web posting on the subject, association president Tim Wise said he would be open to an increase, considering the current rates were established in 1986. Adjusted for inflation, the annual tax now would be more than $21.

“While we take a hard look at taxes in general, this tax seems to look more like a fee, and given the county’s penchant to build dog parks, it seems like the time has arrived to increase the dog-license fee,” Wise said.

In Arlington, licenses are required for all dogs (except service animals) 6 months or older. Households are prohibited from owning more than three dogs without approval from the county zoning administrator and acquisition of a kennel license.

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