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City may take back animal control
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The potential loss of three community service officer (CSO) positions may be averted under a Ceres Police Department plan to shift dollars presently being spent on animal control services.

Ceres is losing grant funding for the CSOs, who lessen the load for sworn patrol officers by writing reports, and handling petty crimes and smaller accidents. Three CSOs cost the city $210,000 annually but funding is drying up. Deputy Chief of Police Mike Borges has proposed a creative way to keep CSO positions which he presented to the Ceres City Council during a Monday evening Study Session.

The plan calls for the city to take monies presently spent on contract services for animal control officers and shifting the work to CSOs. He said Ceres handles about four animal calls per day.

Presently the city contracts with the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency, a non-profit agency not affiliated with the county. The contract covers field services, shelter services and canvassing for pet licenses. Borges said the city joined the joint powers authority because it couldn't afford to provide the full gamut of animal services on its own.

However, costs of animal services charged by SASA continues to rise. The bill for services was $453,332 last year, offset by pet license revenues. The bill for 2012-13 rose to $492,291.

Borges suggests the city keep all SASA services except that of "dog catchers." He proposes the city expand CSOs into animal control officers and use the $185,586 portion of the contract for city worker salaries.

"The loss of Community Service Officers concerns me ... and when I look at we're paying $185,000 a year for people who respond to four calls a day to our city, that's ..." trailed off Borges.

There would be a first-year start-up costs of about $100,811 to get two full-time CSO/animal control officer on board. Those costs include a new vehicle, radio, computer and specialized training. Borges doesn't believe it could get the program up and running until January, if the council goes with the plan.

The move has alarmed SASA executive director Annette Patten who suggested that if Ceres drops field services that the JPA may not be able to provide field services for the rest of the contract cities including Modesto, Hughson, Patterson and Waterford. Ceres represents 16 percent of all field call activity handled by SASA. There is an option those cities would face higher costs.

Borges feels confident that CSOs could be trained to handle tending to loose and dangerous animals. He said his sworn officers already have to act as animal control officers since SASA does not have an animal control officer on duty between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

He also told councilmembers SASA needs to "rethink" some of the administrative charges it levies against contract cities. Borges indicated that Ceres pays about $53,000 in administrative costs for $185,586 field services and believes some of those charges are not appropriate. He claims Modesto has not been paying its fair share for administrative costs since Modesto has its own field services.

"They're already doing some of these costs for the Modesto patrol services without charge," charged Borges.

City council members like the idea but want to explore further.

They also want to further explore a second idea of Borges to use Measure H funds derived from the half-cent sales tax for public safety. The idea is to contract crime analyst/crime scene technician services - funded by Measure H - out to the Sheriff's Department and use county money toward CSO/animal control officer duties.

CSOs are a valuable asset to Ceres Police, said Borges. They handled five percent of the city's 1,452 towed vehicles, 24 percent of all parking tickets, and wrote 980 of the department's 7,448 reports taken between July 1 2010 and June 30. 2011. They also handled 8 percent of the department's 50,159 calls for service.

"They are a part of the organization and without them ... those services would have to be taken up by sworn staff," said Borges.

Vice Mayor Ken Lane said Borges is "on the right track" but likes the idea of a full-time animal control officer.

Mayor Chris Vierra also wants to continue discussions with SASA but said "I do have some concerns with us getting into this a little bit because there could be after-hour (concerns)." He said the city needs to "work with the agency to 'true up' the costs."

Councilman Bret Durossette said he sees wisdom in parting ways with SASA on field services, saying "I personally see this thing rising."

"I absolutely think it's worth exploring and it could be a positive move for our city if indeed when we do lose the funding for the CSOs and if we do incur layoffs it could keep them," said Councilman Eric Ingwerson.