By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Few city options for animal services
Placeholder Image
What's the best and least costly method for taking care of animal problems in Ceres? That was the focus of the March 9 Study Session of the Ceres City Council.

For 34 years the city has contracted out animal control services to the county because it has been the most cost-effective arrangement. But the county told contract cities last year that costs would be escalating - in Ceres' case from $67,000 annually to $497,432 - to help the county pay for a new shelter on Finch Road. The city choked on that news and began looking at options for a cheaper alternative.

"We feel that we don't have a viable option to going with the county for the shelter," said Public Safety Director Art deWerk.

As of Jan. 1 the county raised the contract to $432,384 per year but credits the city $85,517 collected from pet licenses against the total. The total cost to Ceres taxpayers is $346,867 per year.

"It costs this city $36,032 per month for animal services," said deWerk. "That's a lot of money."

He is recommending the city stay with the county for animal pound services but negotiate down the costs of field services, including random patrols.

DeWerk sees little value in random patrolling and says it only drives up the cost of services.

"What we're seeking from the county is a service that limits its response only to requests for service," said deWerk. "So if there's a vicious dog, stray animal, or something along those lines, then the county would send one of their patrol persons. I think it's highly inefficient to have an animal control unit driving around town looking for stray animals. It's very unproductive and expensive."

A report showing activity in Ceres between July 1, 2008 and Nov. 30, 2008 showed that the county handled 17 abandoned pets, 71 biting cases and 28 cases of animal neglect. In addition the county handled 515 stray animal cases, including 58 which were injured and of which 21 were transported.

City officials have expressed concern about the county appearing to be dictatorial about the change in policy. Initially the county told the cities that they would cut them loose from their contract for services at the beginning of the year if they didn't agree to the new contract rates but later agreed to continue offering animal control services until June 30, 2010 to give time to scramble for a new provider. Riverbank is talking to Oakdale about provide animal control services while Newman is teaming up with Gustine, a nearby Merced County city. Turlock has its own animal control officers.

If the county and city cannot mediate an acceptable level of service and cost, deWerk said the city may have to institute its own system of patrols.

DeWerk is concerned that the county has chosen a bad economic time to make plans for a new shelter.

"We're troubled by the timing of this," said deWerk. "We wish there were other choices. We think this is a very expensive endeavor. I understand the need for the facility. If we had it our way we would delay this and seek other ways to address the people with animal welfare concerns. This comes at a time when this city has laid off employees."

County officials say the animal shelter - estimated to cost approximately $10 million to $11 million - must be replaced. The existing 35-year-old shelter on Finch Road is woefully inadequate in size and that materials used in the shelter are more prone to spread diseases to the animals held there. The overcrowding worsened when the state passed a new law that requires counties to hold animals for a minimum of five days. The shelter's condition was blasted in a 2005 Grand Jury report.

To pay for the shelter the county planned to have each contract city pay a higher contract fee based on the number of animals each city contributes. Ceres should pay for 11 percent of the costs of a new shelter, they say, since the same percentage of animals at the pound come from Ceres.

The county also is raising fees and licenses.