WOODLAND — County supervisors took a step toward the privatization of animal services on Tuesday when they directed staff to develop the framework for a joint powers agency that eventually could replace the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department as manager of animal services throughout the county.
The proposed JPA would include the cities of Davis, Winters, Woodland and West Sacramento, as well as the county itself and possibly UC Davis.
Currently, the Sheriff’s Department runs the animal shelter in Woodland and provides animal services for incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county. Services are funded through contracts with participating cities as well as through licensing fees.
But animal welfare activists — including the Yolo County Pet Animal Welfare Society — have long contended that the shelter euthanizes too many animals, with estimates of close to 30 percent of all dogs brought to the shelter and nearly 70 percent of cats being euthanized. Cities, meanwhile, have expressed concerns about the costs associated with the current model.
Their position was bolstered last year when a report commissioned by the Yolo County Local Agency Formation Commission urged privatization of the county’s animal services program through the formation of a joint powers agency. The report by the Animal Protection League suggested doing so would improve animal services while reducing costs and euthanasia rates.
A second study conducted earlier this year by the UCD Koret Shelter Medicine Program analyzed what programs and staffing levels would be needed for animal services in Yolo County and determined that the previous study overestimated the cost savings of forming a JPA.
However, the Koret study said that while “the potential for immediate cost savings is not as significant as previously indicated… long-term costs can be reduced by implementing best practices designed to reduce animal intake.”
Specifically, the report recommended increasing staffing overall, with more resources going into spaying and neutering as well as volunteer and fostering programs.
“By providing an up-front investment in slightly elevated staffing and programming levels,” the Koret report said, “the JPA can expect a significant return on investment in future years. The recommendations provided by (Koret) are intended to provide sustainable long-term improvements such as decreased intakes, shorter lengths of stay for animals, greater community/volunteer engagement, and increased leveraging of outside funding and resources.
“As efforts are implemented to reduce intakes and shorten length of stay, lower staffing levels will be needed to serve the daily population,” the report said. “Additionally, as volunteer support becomes more prevalent and stable, the need for paid staff may decrease.”
In recommending that supervisors move toward the JPA model, County Administrator Patrick Blacklock said, “there is a long-term return on investment in this.
“The end result should be lower intake of animals in the future, which should result in lower costs.”
Once the JPA plan is drawn up, it would have to be approved by all of the participating cities as well as the Board of Supervisors. At that point, the new agency could begin soliciting bids from animal service providers.
But even then, there still could be disagreements on the standard of care each city is willing to pay for, Supervisor Matt Rexroad cautioned.
The JPA model, he noted, “assumes everyone plays well in the sand box.”
However, he said, “say we go down this road and one of the cities decides, ‘That’s not the standard of care we want for (animals),’ and they decide to abandon the model?”
The city of Davis, in particular, Rexroad said, may bring a different set of values to how much money should be spent on animal services, and if Davis — or another city — decides to back out, “this whole thing will fall apart.”
“I have concerns we’re going to end up with a train wreck,” he said.
Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis suggested that could be prevented if all the participating agencies agree to a long-term contract with the JPA.
Another concern raised by several supervisors is the future of the current Sheriff’s Department employees who work in animal services.
There are 18 positions assigned to animal services, county staff reported, 15 of which are currently filled.
Options for those employees would include employment with the newly created JPA, placement in another existing position in the county or retirement. Absent those options, the result would be layoffs, staff noted.
Blacklock said those employees are being kept apprised of the ongoing JPA discussions and the impact on them.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy