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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 10:03 pm | Fair 55º


Lompoc Looks to Leash Animal Control Costs, Replace Santa Barbara County Service

City Council delays action to hire private contractor as Animal Services supporters speak out

Animal control vehicles outside animal shelter. Click to view larger
The city of Lompoc decided this week to renew the Santa Barbara County Animal Services contract for one more year, but is considering switching to a private contractor in the future. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Lompoc has delayed hiring a private contractor to handle animal control service as supporters of the city’s Santa Barbara County-operated shelter said an analysis of current operations is flawed.

The Lompoc City Council reviewed the staff proposal, but decided this week to renew the Santa Barbara County Animal Services contract for one more year, with a 30-day termination clause, allowing time to further study a proposal to hire a new entity to handle future animal control services.

“I don’t find it likely that the cost of services from the county will go down if we renew for a year or two,” Councilman Dirk Starbuck said. “On the other hand, I’m not willing to throw the county to the dogs at this point because four days to make a decision like this in my eyes isn’t enough.”

He said he was torn over whether this provided the best options for animal control services, but also said he wouldn’t miss “the over-the-fence Nazi mentality that’s been going on here for years” if a change is implemented.

Increasing costs from Santa Barbara County have prompted the push to find a cheaper alternative.

In 2001, the contract totaled $75,000 compared to the current cost of $323,844, which Deputy City Manager Laura Dubbels called a cumulative increase of 332 percent or an annual average of 19.5 percent.

By comparison, the city’s population grew by 4.5 percent. 

“After much time, analysis and effort, staff has found a quality alternative solution to the city’s current practice, which also addresses very important budgetary concerns by providing overall operational savings to the city,” Dubbels said. 

A changed formula after the incorporation of Goleta, with the county subsidizing cities’ costs for the first four-years, explains the boost in costs to local agencies, Public Health Director  Van Do-Reynoso said.

“The Public Health Department has had a process of subsidizing all of our city contracts, and we did enter into the per-capita methodology to try to be more even-handed,” Animal Services Director Jan Glick added. 

Additionally, the county pays for facility costs, including the recent remodel of the Lompoc animal shelter, officials said.

Do-Reynoso also called the $500,000 price tag for the city’s proposed new facility “grossly an underestimation.”

The agency has offered two-year renewals with 1.5 percent annual increases to all cities, Glick said. 

“We have been committed throughout the years to provide good service, and we cover all the mandates that you’re now going to be taking on,” Glick said. 

Those mandates include providing a stray animal shelter, rabies control program, dog licensing program, medical care, spay and neuter programs, and veterinarian associate with the facility in addition to a premises permit.

“By operating three community animal centers, we’re able to provide an economy of scale, and we move our resources to go where they’re needed within the county,” Glick said.

It’s not just dogs and cats sheltered by Animal Services in Lompoc. Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, chickens, reptiles and more arrive at the facility.

In her report to the council, Dubbels suggested county-provided animal-control services have declined.

“The services rendered have also been relatively stagnant in amount as well, either staying pretty much the same or actually decreasing by these trend lines in the next couple of slides here,” Dubbels said. “With such a minute change in population and services, the drastic change in cost is uncorrelated.”

Animal Services supporters objected to characterizing services as being reduced, noting the slides Dubbels displayed referred to lower rates for euthanasia and average days boarded, 

“You want average days boarded to go down. You want euthanasia rates to go down. These numbers going down are an indication that the current program is working,” volunteer Cynthia Allen said. 

“Animals are leaving the shelter alive,” she added. "Using these positive achievements in the negative is a disservice to those who dedicate themselves to saving these animals."

City staff has suggested entering into a 10-year contract with Jeff Charter of Charter Services, LLC to provide animal services, suggesting savings could range from $640,000 to $6.6 million.

She said if the council agreed to move forward, she would return with the actual costs along with a funding plan for installing the new shelter buildings.

Dubbels called Charter “a very qualified provider” with 13 years in the industry.

However, Charter’s Petaluma Animal Services Foundation recently lost a contract to continue operating that city’s shelter.

A Petaluma city staff report and a Petaluma newspaper article mentioned 2017 allegations of workplace discrimination, and financial and personnel management improprieties involving Petaluma Animal Services Foundation management made from within the organization.

Charter did not attend Tuesday’s meeting in Lompoc.

Under the city proposal, a new shelter would be located on city land at 1700 North H Street, adjacent to the Pet Lodge. Pre-fabricated metal buildings would house kennels for dogs and other animals.

But a $500,000 estimate to create the new shelter drew skeptical comments from speakers. 

Dubbels said staff would present final costs and a funding plan at a later meeting, with a goal of switching to the private firm by January. 

“You need to verify that you’re evaluating comparable services before you make a final decision,” Allen told the council.

Jill Anderson from Shadow’s Fund, which provides shelter to senior, pit bull and other vulnerable dogs, also urged the council to review the financial matters. 

“The proposed budget does not seem nearly adequate to run a robust animal services program, particularly when you’re not being subsidized by the county and when you’re not a nonprofit able to raise funds,” she said. 

In addition to Lompoc, the city of Santa Maria will explore cost containment options for animal control services provided by Santa Barbara County.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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