So you get the call on Monday evening and you’re asked, “Is there anything exciting on tomorrow’s Board agenda?” “Well, OC Animal Care is providing some interesting options to deal with a budget deficit that should generate some stimulating discussion.”
The Board of Supervisors has twice voted down a fee increase for OC Animal Care in recent months. The Department’s current fees had not been raised in five years as the impact of a Great Recession makes doing so a little difficult. But, the current fees are higher than that of any neighboring animal shelter. What was missing from the discussion was the subsidizing of the fees by various cities. The County and its 17 member cities subsidizes the OC Animal Care budget by 43 percent. The nonmember city of Mission Viejo subsidizes its efforts by 70 percent. Consequently, the County’s fees are higher.
But, costs have risen in recent years. And the agenda item was at least honest in explaining that a portion of the increase was due to higher employee salaries and benefits (primarily due to increased retirement, retiree medical and health care insurance costs, and increased workers compensation costs).
After the Board’s recent decisions to not raise fees, OC Animal Care met with its 17 member cities to discuss bridging a $1.4 million budget gap. The cities volunteered $780,000, leaving some $626,000 to fill. Today the Board was provided with three options: (1) Cut costs by $626,300; (2) Subsidize $626,300 out of the General Net County Costs Budget; and (3) Raise fees by $626,300. As cutting costs included reducing shelter hours, County Counsel opined that such a decision had to be made by the Board. Therefore, the job of fashioning a managerial solution was delegated up to the Board of Supervisors for a discussion and solution.
With the Legislature and the Governor absconding with $73 million per year from Orange County’s General Net County Costs Budget through the passage and signing of Senate Bill 89, there is no room to subsidize Animal Care.
Of the total OC Animal Care budget of $18 million, only $500,000 is for service to the County’s unincorporated areas. My only large unincorporated area is Rossmoor, and it wants to utilize the animal shelter in the city of Long Beach. The rest of the budget is the costs of providing services to the 17 contract cities. Consequently, if the County paid an additional $626,300, it would be paying more than double its share of services. How does this make sense? And under these fiscal constraints, why is there even a cry for the County to build a new animal shelter (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Annual CSAC Conference — November 22, 2013)?
The agenda item did not include a formal study indicating that the current model is the most efficient and optimum way of doing business. But, it did provide three alternatives on how to run the department going forward: (1) Keep the existing regional service governance model (no change); (2) Consider a Joint Powers governance model with the 17 cities (more member control); or (3) Pursue a local service and governance model with the existing OC Animal Care staff or with a private or nonprofit provider (privatization). The third option, with an outside service provider, made the most sense to me.
After a reasonable amount of discussion the debate centered around two major concerns. Should Orange County continue the regional model and be a leader in animal control services? And should that service be subsidized or should pet owners benefiting from this department be paying the costs? Of course, there is also a blend, but it was not included in the mix. Owning a pet is a personal choice. So why should every taxpayer pay for those who decide to own a pet? Accordingly, my preference was to raise the fees for pet owners. I do not believe that taxpayers should overly subsidize Animal Care, especially when there is no funding to do so. Three Supervisors preferred fee increases over two Supervisors that preferred additional subsidization. So the Board will discuss potential fee increases a third time in the near future.
FOX News Los Angeles addressed the issue in an early morning newscast in the piece below, setting up the topic for today’s Board discussion.
Board Of Sups In OC Considers Budget Cuts To Animal Care
Posted by: Jeffrey Thomas DeSocio, Digital News Editor / Producer
Santa Ana, CA – (FOX 11 / CNS) The Orange County Board of Supervisors today will consider making significant budget cuts to its OC Animal Care services, such as closing its facility in Orange on Mondays.
County officials say the expense of pensions, workers’ compensation and the rising cost of medicine and other medical services have caught up to OC Animal Care, which has not had a fee increase since 2008.
· The board will be asked to consider three options:
· Make deep cuts in services;
· Increase the fees paid by the 17 cities that contract with the county for services;
· Or dip into the general fund and subsidize the losses.
Supervisor John Moorlach said he is inclined to cut the department out altogether, contract with a private company and let the cities that contract with the county handle animal care within their boundaries.
"If our purpose is just to help the unincorporated areas and that portion of the budget is $500,000 then why don’t we just cut it,” Moorlach said.
The cities that contract with the county could rent space in the county’s facility in Orange, he said. Moorlach said he is interested to know what his fellow supervisors think. Officials say closing the animal shelter on Mondays would save $167,800 annually. Closing the public intake at 6 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. could save $30,000.
Other proposed cuts include reducing a community outreach supervisor to a part-time job, which would save $40,600. Eliminating a public education officer post would save $62,300, and dropping an overnight shift for field services would save $76,500.
More proposed savings would come from reducing overtime by 25 percent, netting the county an additional $137,200, and cutting a supplies budget by $111,900.
If the supervisors want the cities to chip in more in fees, then it is also proposed that the county should set up a Joint Powers Authority that would give the local municipalities more say on running animal care.
The cities recently agreed to chip in an extra $780,200, leaving a shortfall of $626,300 to be made up with the county upping its commitment or going with the service reductions.