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City, county at odds over new pound
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City Council members said last week they feel they're being railroaded into a deal to help pay for a new county animal shelter - and they don't like it.

Mayor Anthony Cannella said the county is presenting a "take it or leave it" approach to involving the cities that would quadruple the city's costs of animal control services. The city currently pays $85,517 annually to the county to take care of loose dogs and cats in Ceres but that figure is proposed to jump to $497,432 to help the county pay for a new shelter on Finch Road.

"Clearly we cannot absorb this cost," said Cannella at a Nov. 10 City Council Study Session. He suggested a tiered service levels to reduce costs. City Manager Brad Kilger said the county should at least look into a gradual increase in costs.

County officials say the animal shelter - estimated to cost approximately $10 million to $11 million - must be upgraded and that Ceres should pay for 11 percent of the costs of a new shelter since the same percentage of animals at the pound come from Ceres. The county also plans to raise funds by increasing fees and licenses.

The county is also telling the contract cities of Ceres, Hughson, Modesto, Oakdale, Riverbank, Waterford and Patterson that it will be terminating animal control services as of Dec. 31 in anticipation of a new agreement that is proposed to be much pricier.

But council members didn't like the tone coming from county staff members. Councilman Ken Lane said he doesn't appreciate the county demanding an answer by the first council meeting in December (on Dec. 8). He claims the city has not been consulted as a partner.

Only six cities have the potential to be involved in the county plan. Modesto and Turlock provide their own service and Newman recently contracted with neighboring Gustine for services.

Public Safety Director Art de Werk said the city doesn't have a lot of options for animal control services. He said the idea of turning to Turlock is prohibitively expensive.

Vice Mayor Chris Vierra said while the county "probably does need a new and improved shelter ... the economy's not the greatest."

Cannella said the county comes out "smelling like a rose" on the deal.

"They neglect the facility for 20 years and pass the costs off to the city," said Cannella.

The county was taken to task for the condition of the Animal Shelter in a 2005 Grand Jury report. Supervisor Jim DeMartini said the 35-year-old county animal facility is "woefully inadequate." The facility is overcrowded and materials used in the shelter are more prone to hold diseases. 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.