This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Melissa Mitchell, Administrative Assistant for the John Locke Foundation.

It pays to look beyond the basic news reports when you learn about a new tax hike. Thanks to Raleigh City Council and Wake County commissioners, the owner of a $200,000 Raleigh home will soon pay an additional $140 per year in property taxes.

Of that increase, $80 will head to the City of Raleigh. News reports focus on the capital city’s plans to pay for a new fire station and additional police protection, which are valid needs for a growing city. But I began to wonder what pork was included in the budget.

First, let me say that I’m a dog owner and lover. But when it comes to my local taxes, I’m like a hound dog with its nose to the ground looking for ways that local politicians can cut costs. My latest find is Raleigh’s dog parks.

Raleigh now welcomes dogs at Millbrook Exchange and Oakwood parks. Five more dog parks are slated for the Raleigh area. Raleigh City Council approved funding for two of these new parks. These unleashed dog parks provide a place for a dog to run free and “socialize” with other dogs. One proposed park offers a nature walk for dogs.

Where did this idea start? In reviewing city council minutes, I found that this idea entered the public arena though an ad hoc committee and a group called PUP (People for Unleashed Parks). When runners and visitors complained about the danger of dogs running free in places like Schenck Forest, dog park proponents united.

This group used the old tried and true argument that a dog park is a desirable amenity for people choosing to relocate here. I can see some council members’ eyes glazing over as they envisioned packs of people moving to Raleigh to accommodate their dogs. Forget quality of life, tax burden, or quality of schools. What about the availability of dog parks? If a dog park were truly a big draw, then every subdivision would sport one.

The first park at Millbrook Exchange cost taxpayers $56,500. The projected cost was $64,800, but PUP donated $8,300 in materials and volunteer time. The second park cost $35,000. Of course, each park has an estimated yearly cost of $6,000 for maintenance, trash removal, herbicide, and staff oversight. City Council allotted $79,000 for two additional parks, but costs could be higher.

These dog parks have strict rules. All dogs are to have recent vaccinations, but unless the dog owner has up-to-date vaccine records with her, there is no way of verifying this information.

Ironically, most veterinarians and professional dog handlers do not support unleashed parks. Even though a dog may have up-to-date vaccinations, there is no guarantee that the dog is free of parasites and viruses. Because all dogs are unpredictable with other dogs and people, even a professional handler with the best-behaved dog does not allow a dog off-leash at a dog show or field trial except when the dog is competing.

Now, let’s look at some numbers. When we add the cost of the first two parks – $91,500 – with the funds allotted for future parks – $79,000 – we get a grand total of $170,500 in tax funds for building dog parks. That does not include maintenance costs. Eliminate these dog parks from the budget, and Raleigh could shave its tax rate.

A dog park seems like a drop in the bucket for taxpayers, but all of these drops add up. Just try stopping up a sink with a dripping faucet; you end up with a flood. That’s what many of our local officials are doing. A drop here and a drop there for non-essential services are causing a flood of additional taxes.

Once again, I must note that if these dog parks are in such great demand, then they need to be built and maintained by private individuals and organizations, such as PUP. Why should taxpayers with no dogs subsidize a two-acre park for unleashed dogs to play catch and go for a nature walk?

Raleigh voters should remember this issue the next time they head to the polls. When people ignore local elections and fail to hold officials accountable for their decisions, their tax dollars go to the dogs.