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Budget-strapped county seeks city help on animal shelter, library
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County budget troubles have led Supervisor James DeMartini to lobby for city contributions for animal services and library hours.

DeMartini approached the Ceres City Council Monday to suggest it could help the county lessen cuts to hours of operation at the Ceres library. Two months ago he asked the city should participate in upgrading the county Animal Shelter on Finch Road.

The county announced its plans to reduce library services due to falling sales tax revenue. Beginning June 30, the Modesto Library will be closed on Sundays and all other 12 branches will close two additional days per week. DeMartini said the Ceres branch will be closed Wednesdays and Fridays for a total of 31 hours per week of service.

He told city officials that the city can keep the Ceres library open one more day by chipping in $707 per day, or $8,400 per year. The second day being cut could be restored for $16,900 per year.

City officials, facing their own budget shortfalls, seemed cool to the idea. When DeMartini suggested that no city helps to support library services, City Manager Brad Kilger quickly reminded him that the city gives the county lease on the library building for $1 per year.

Reflecting on the county's projected $12 million budget shortfall, DeMartini said: "This is going to be a tough next couple of years."

He noted that the county is looking at a 3 percent across the board cut to all departments. The library system will face reduced services because sales tax revenue, which funds 85 percent of the library services, is projected to decrease by 12 percent.

On March 24 DeMartini asked the council to consider contributing financially to revamping the 35-year-old county animal facility, which he calls "woefully inadequate." He said that the problem was only worsened when the state passed a new law that requires the county to hold animals for a minimum of five days.

The facility is overcrowded and materials used in the shelter are more prone to hold diseases.

"What we have today is very overcrowded and disease ridden," said DeMartini.

Ceres contracts with the county to provide animal control services. The city of Turlock operates its own facilities.

Contract cities are not obligated to do so but DeMartini is hopeful that they will chip in and agree to a joint operated pound. Because 11 percent of the animals at the pound come from Ceres, the city would be looking at 11 percent of the costs. DeMartini estimates that a new facility would cost between $10 million and $15 million, making Ceres' share between $1.1 million to $1.65 million.

Approximately 32 percent of the animals come from the unincorporated county, the supervisor noted. Modesto accounts for 41 percent of the animals.

"We're trying to be as fair as we can," DeMartini told the council.

Because of the facility's condition, the county would like to have a new facility within a year, but the time table could be too optimistic, he said.

Kilger, who took a tour of the facility along with county and city officials, said the city will have to evaluate Ceres' true costs of animal control services and judge it against the level of service the county is providing. If it pencils out, the city may want to cancel the contract with the county and provide its own services.