Plan unveiled for Palo Alto Animal Services; cutbacks, increased revenues billed as answer to budget

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By Jason Green
Palo Alto Daily News/San Jose Mercury News
July 19, 2012
Read original article at www.mercurynews.com

Plan unveiled for Palo Alto Animal Services; cutbacks, increased revenues billed as answer to budget

The budgetary woes of the Palo Alto Animal Services division could largely be fixed by increasing spay and neuter revenues, but layoffs will still have to part of the mix, according to a plan unveiled Wednesday.

As part of the fiscal year 2013 budget passed in June, the city council ordered a $449,105 reduction in the net cost of animal services. Since then, city staff has met periodically with shelter supporters to develop a plan that achieves that goal.

Council members are scheduled to review a combination of proposed fee hikes and layoffs on Monday.

“This plan represents the best option to maintain acceptable levels of service for the community and our partner cities while significantly reducing animal services’ cost to the general fund in (fiscal year) 2013,” senior performance auditor Ian Haggerman wrote in a report.

The division is in dire financial straits because of Mountain View’s decision to leave its 19-year partnership with Palo Alto, which continues to provide animal services to Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

The plan hinges on a 25 percent annual increase in the number of animals that are spayed and neutered at the division’s shelter on East Bayshore Road. Associated fees would also be raised by 22 percent for residents of Palo Alto, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, and 50 percent for all others.

Altogether, the division could pull in $143,793 annually by expanding the number of animals it sterilizes and charging more for the procedure, according to Haggerman’s report. Another $41,556 could be raised by hiking fees for dog licenses, vaccinations and adoptions.

The plan also calls for eliminating two full-time-equivalent positions — an animal control officer and an animal services supervisor — by the end of the year, and cutting a part-time volunteer coordinator and hourly veterinarian on July 1, 2013, for a total annual savings of $284,426.

Reaction to the fee component of the plan has been mixed among shelter supporters, said Luke Stangel, who helped coordinate an effort earlier this year to derail a controversial proposal to outsource the division and then co-founded the Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter to ensure its long-term survival.

“My personal sense is the fee increases are entirely appropriate,” Stangel told The Daily News. “For decades, Palo Alto Animal Services has been the cheapest place in town to get your cat or dog spayed or neutered and vaccinated. These fee increases bring Palo Alto closer to the market rate, which I think is very smart.”

Stangel acknowledged that higher prices might be a deal breaker for some low-income users, but said additional vouchers might provide an answer. The Friends group is exploring whether to join the California Department of Agriculture, Santa Clara County and Palo Alto Humane Society in providing vouchers.

As for layoffs, there is unity on that front, Stangel said.

“FoPAAS has always been against staff reductions and we continue to be against staff reductions,” he said.

Stangel said the Friends group is still working to come up with a way to preserve the positions and pointed to donations, including $35,000 from an anonymous party to retain the volunteer coordinator through the end of the current fiscal year, as a sign that the community values the staff.

Division Superintendent Sandi Stadler said layoffs, if approved, would ultimately result in a level of service that is lower than what some in the community have come to expect. There would be fewer employees to absorb a workload that will continue to be significant despite Mountain View’s departure.

“I don’t want staff burnout,” Stadler told The Daily News. “We’re going to have to take it slowly and adjust.”

Stadler said losing even one employee would be hard on the tight-knit staff of 13. Still, she added, the division is in a much better position than it was just a few short months ago.

“It was good that we were able to do a combination of both, because if we had to do one or the other, we would have failed,” she said about the proposed fee hikes and staffing cuts. “We’re still here and that’s fantastic.”