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City joins animal shelter JPA
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The $8.7 million Animal Shelter which is to be built by the county near Ceres will be governed by a joint powers authority (JPA) involving the city of Ceres.

The Ceres City Council approved involvement with the JPA on Nov. 9, on the provision that Modesto joins too.

Besides Ceres, the county, and the cities of Hughson, Waterford, Modesto and Patterson all plan to join the JPA.

The county is replacing the existing 40-year-old Animal Shelter on Finch Road. County officials say the facility is woefully inadequate and that materials used in the shelter are more prone to spread diseases to the animals held there. The county plans to construct a new facility near Crowslanding and Cornucopia Way and award the bid next month.

The size of the 33,360-square-foot center was designed based on how many cities participate.

The county will finance construction of the project through a loan from their 2006 tobacco bond tax revenues and paid back over 25 years. Ceres' annual share of the debt payment will be $38,195 this year and $63,821 per year until 2035.

Ceres taxpayers are also on the hook for annual costs of animal control services and using the shelter for unwanted and corraled dogs and cats. The city expects those costs to be $282,000 annually but offset by estimated revenues of $130,000 for a total cost of $152,000 each year.

Mayor Anthony Cannella commented about the costs of the program, saying, "As painful as it is this is the best we can get."

The city of Ceres looked into providing its own animal control services but deemed it prohibitively expensive last March.

The new shelter is expected to be completed by Dec. 15, 2010.

The center is being constructed as a spay-neuter clinic and will have enough room for 563 animals. The county's goal is to lower the amount of unwanted pets. During the 2008-09 fiscal year the county spent $1.7 million to destroy 14,357 animals, of which 9,900 were cats.

County officials plan to provide low-cost spay and neuter services in a 1,635-square-foot section of the shelter through Stanislaus Area Veterinarians for the Economically Disadvantaged, (SAVED Inc.) Those services would be offered on a non-profit basis to the poorest families in the county and include an estimated 3,000 sterilization procedures the first year. But private veterinarians have protested the county move as competing against their businesses and are protesting. They also say that the services won't make the problem of unwanted pets go away. County officials say the competition would not be great since the clinical area won't have radiological or surgical equipment. The alternative, said county veterinarian Kwane Stewart is to build a larger facility and destroy more animals.

Efforts to get pet owners to spay and neuter their cats and dogs were not as effective as county officials want to see. Last year the Finch Road shelter took in 22,400 stray or unwanted animals last fiscal year.

Fees for sterilizing cats would range from $35 to $50 for low-income owners and $30 to $40 for very low-income owners. Sterilization fees for dogs would be $65 to $120 for low-income owners and $50 to $85 for very low-income.