Animal Services contract costs will be increasing for cities that use Santa Barbara County services, and the Board of Supervisors last week proposed phasing in the higher costs over five years.
Seven cities, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, and unincorporated areas have agreements with the county for field and sheltering services (except Santa Barbara, which has its own field officers and just contracts with the county for sheltering services).
An outside consultant report analyzed costs and fees, and determined that sheltering costs were about two-thirds of the Animal Services budget, and field costs were about one-third.
Paige Batson, the deputy director for Public Health’s community health division, said the county is looking at proposed contracts with full cost recovery.
There are certain fees that, if the county charged the full cost, would cause people not to license their animals, staff members noted.
High fees or appointment-only services could become barriers to people participating in the services.
“Sometimes them not using the service becomes more expensive for us than using the service,” First District Supervisor Das Williams said.
The supervisors supported charging contract cities the full costs without general fund support, which would cause an average 20% increase to contract costs if implemented in one year.
With a five-year phase-in plan for the increases, the 2022-23 year increases would range from 1% to 5%, except for Santa Barbara, which would see a 9% increase ($37,500).
When notified of the potentially large increases last year, several cities started coordinating with each other and the county to learn more about the impact.
“We did submit a letter to the county asking that they open talks with us and other partner cities,” Santa Barbara spokeswoman Shelly Cone told Noozhawk. “It’s important that we are able to explain any potential fee increase to our City Council and residents, and perform our due diligence in researching options to provide excellent but cost-effective services.”
In October, when Santa Maria learned it could be facing a 33% increase for a total contract cost of more than $1 million, the city sent a letter asking to open discussions with the county “to better understand the justification as we prepare our next budget.”
“Be assured, we want to continue providing our residents and businesses with a full complement of animal services, but we owe it to them to research options and provide services in the most cost-effective manner possible.”
Lompoc has been coordinating with other Animal Services contract cities and the county to talk about possible fee increases, city spokeswoman Samantha Scroggin said.
“Our city just became aware of the proposed 5-year plan at this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, and we have not yet seen the final contract,” she said in an email.
“We are working to gain more insight on the plan with Animal Services, so that we can put this information in front of the Lompoc City Council. In addition, we know many in our community have strong feelings on this topic, and we value our community’s continued input regarding the Lompoc contract with county Animal Services. We will be announcing various avenues for this community feedback to be provided.”
The supervisors said they prefer the system stays together, rather than cities creating their own independent services. They voted 4-0, with Bob Nelson absent, to pursue contracts that increase costs more gradually over a 5-year period.
“I think there’s tremendous value to keeping the system integrated, to keeping the system whole,” Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said.
She and other members of the board also encouraged Animal Services to develop a robust volunteer program and pursue grant funding.
Volunteer programs can be difficult to develop and involve “powerful personalities,” Williams said, “but they are a force multiplier for programs like Animal Services…”
“I understand reasons why it may have lapsed but I think it’s vital for the future of our program.”
Batson said the department recognizes the value of a volunteer program, and “we intend to make it one of the most robust ever.”
An advisory council is also being developed, she noted.
— Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.