The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 9, 2012

UPDATED: Low-cost spay-neuter clinics say they pay taxes

By Jean Cole
jean@athensnews-courier.com

— Officials from two nonprofit spay and neuter clinics serving Alabama are refuting a claim by the head of the Alabama State Veterinary Medical Examiners Board that the low-cost clinics do not pay taxes like private veterinarians.

Dr. Robert Pitman of Athens, president of the ASVME board, recently told The News Courier that — unlike private veterinarians — the state’s four low-cost, nonprofit, spay and neuter clinics do not have to pay taxes that help communities do things like repair roads and fund schools.

Jane Jattuso, treasurer for the North Alabama Spay and Neuter Clinic in Huntsville, and Mark Nelson, executive director of the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic in Irondale, say Pitman’s remarks are simply not true. They say his comments are aimed at convincing residents and veterinarians that these clinics are unneeded, unsafe and pose an unfair advantage over private veterinarians.

Pitman and the ASVME board recently proposed two rule changes that could effectively shut down the clinics. The proposed rules:

• To prevent nonveterinarians from hiring or supervising veterinarians;

• To prevent nonvets — including nonprofit groups — from owning veterinary equipment.

The state’s four low-cost spay and neuter clinics are independently owned by four separate nonprofit groups. 

Clinic officials — as well as thousands of residents across Alabama in the past few weeks — have signed petitions opposing the rule changes. Some of them plan to attend a public hearing on the proposed rules at 9 a.m. Wednesday at 8 Commerce St., Suite 910, in Montgomery. If the board adopts the rule, opponents can request review by a legislative council, Jattuso said. That council could decide to approve, reject or alter the proposed rule. The rule would not go into effect until it went before the legislative body, she said.

Nelson said he fears the 100,000 to 200,000 animals put to death each year in the state “are getting lost in all of this.”

Alabama and Mississippi have the highest kill rates in the nation due to their burgeoning pet overpopulation.

In Limestone County and Athens some 2,628 cats and dogs were humanely killed in fiscal 2011. Pitman is paid $281,000 a year by the city of Athens and Limestone County to treat, find homes, or humanely kill these unwanted animals. 

The North Alabama clinic, together with the three other clinics in the state, have performed nearly 100,000 spay or neuter surgeries.

Fewer unwanted animals saves cities and counties the cost of having to dispose of them.

Taxes

Jattuso, who volunteers for the North Alabama clinic, said Pitman is trying to suggest publicly and through his position on the board that the nonprofit clinics receive an unfair advantage over private vets.

“The only difference the low-cost spay and neuter clinics have is that we do not pay income tax,” Jattuso said. “That’s because we don’t have an income in the sense of a profit. That is not our purpose. For him (Pitman) to say we have all these advantages is ludicrous.”

She revealed the amounts of some of the taxes the North Alabama clinic has paid so far this year, including:

• $15,509 in federal payroll taxes;

• $2,290 in state payroll taxes;

• $2252 in unemployment taxes;

• Undetermined amount of sales tax and use taxes.

Although she did not have the sales and use tax amounts Monday, she said people are welcome to ask for the tax figures or look at the clinic’s books and see what taxes it pays.”

In the case of the Irondale clinic, Nelson said it collects and remits to the state 10 percent sales tax on anything sold, such as flea medicine. He said the clinic pays 10 percent use tax on items the clinic buys but does not sell, such as veterinary supplies. He said the clinic also pays federal payroll tax, state payroll tax and unemployment tax. The owners of the building pay property tax, he said.

Need

Pitman has questioned the need for the clinics. He previously told The News Courier that most private veterinarians already offer the same low-cost spay and neutering services for low-income residents. However, the low-cost clinics serve not only those with low-incomes but also anyone who wants to use them.

Competition

Jattuso said the clinics are not full-service vets as Pitman contends because the service they offer is “one and done.”

Pet owners can obtain low-cost spaying and neutering at a cost of $35 to $65, as well as immunizations and flea medicine. However, they can only obtain these on the day of surgery. They can’t come back for flea medicine a month later or immunizations a year later.

“They can get it the day of the service but they can’t come back,” Jattuso said.

“If they want to come back in a year and get their pet immunized, we won’t do it,” Nelson said.

Quality of care

Pitman has also said there is a quality of care issue with the clinics, though he has not yet released details of those issues.

Nelson, whose clinic “did really well” in its surprise inspection by the board last October — said quality care has never been a problem and that if it had been, the board would have taken action.

Nelson said board, which was appointed by the Alabama Legislature to ensure quality care and safety, is simply trying to close the clinics because he believes they compete with private vets.