Utah's veterinarians think a Salt Lake County Animal Services plan to begin licensing pet cats sometime in mid-1989 is a good idea.

The Utah Veterinary Medical Association favors the cat licensing proposal "because of the positive medical and public health impact that it could have," association president D. Glen Esplin, said in a letter to County Commissioner Mike Stewart.Licensing cats would help ensure pets are vaccinated against rabies as required by law, Esplin's letter said. And a high vaccination percentage among dogs and cats is the most important factor in preventing human rabies, he said.

Although rabies among pets has not been great problem in the state, a rabid cat was recently reported in southern Utah, Esplin said. There not only are more cats than dogs kept as house pets, but cats also are more likely than dogs to hunt small wild animals, which may be infected with rabies.

Such public health concerns justify cat licensing, Es-plin said, and he urged commissioners to support the proposal.

But the licensing plan, proposed by Animal Services Director Peggy Hinnen primarily as a revenue-generating mechanism, will certainly be controversial whether it's imposed or not.

Taxpayer Carol Mills called the cat licensing plan a "hidden tax increase" for county residents in one of the very few comments by citizens made during last week's sparsely attended public hearing on the county's 1989 tentative budget.

In an earlier letter to commissioners, Hinnen had proposed licensing felines as an option for increasing Animal Services revenue to help raise money for a new animal shelter.

The existing shelter, 511 W. 39th South, is overcrowded and outdated. But no money for a new shelter was included in next year's budget because the project was too far down a priority list of county needs.

Aside from the public health and revenue benefits, licensing would make it easier for owners of lost cats to be reunited with their stray pets, Hinnen said.

Last year only 2 percent of the stray cats impounded by the county were returned to their owners, while Animal Services was able to reunite more than one impounded dog in three with its humans.