Palo Alto eyes staff cuts, fee hikes at animal shelter

City unveils plan for reducing costs of popular operation by nearly $450,000

Palo Alto's popular animal-services operation would see a slew of fee increases and staff cuts under the city's latest proposal to keep the financially troubled division afloat.

The plan, which the City Council is scheduled to consider Monday night, July 23, aims to reduce net costs of animal services by nearly $450,000 through a combination of revenue increases and expense reductions. The financial crisis at Palo Alto Animal Services was prompted by Mountain View's decision last year to withdraw from its partnership in the operation, a move that will deprive Palo Alto of about $470,000 in annual revenues.

Earlier this year, city officials flirted with the idea of closing the operation and outsourcing animal services but dropped this plan after overwhelming opposition from the community and, ultimately, the City Council. Last month, the council adopted a budget that includes $449,105 in cost reductions and directed staff to achieve these reductions. The fiscal crisis also spurred a group of shelter volunteers and animal activists to form a new nonprofit group, "Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter," with a mission to raise funds for the animal operation.

The new report from the Police Department, which oversees animal services, lays out a roadmap for filling the funding gap that resulted from Mountain View's withdrawal. The plan calls for increasing fees for spaying and neutering by an average of 22 percent for residents of Palo Alto and its partner cities, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. For non-residents, who make up about three quarters of all customers, the fees would be raised by an average of 50 percent. According to a report by Ian Hagerman, the police department's performance auditor, an average cost of all spay and neuter surgeries at the shelter would be about $95 for residents and $125 for nonresidents.

"These individuals from outside of Palo Alto or our partner cities who receive service through the spay and neuter clinic would see the most dramatic fee increases, but the costs for these increases are still substantially lower than private veterinarian rates and competitive with other local low-cost providers," Hagerman wrote.

The city's animal shelter on East Bayshore Road would also extend its hours with the expectation of booking an additional 3,000 appointments every year, a 25 percent increase. These moves are expected to increase the revenues from the spay-and-neuter operation by $131,810 in the current fiscal year and by $143,793 every year after that.

The changes to the spay-and-neuter operation are by far the largest, though not the only, component of the city's plan to inject revenues into animal services. The city also plans to increase most vaccination rates by $5 and dog-licensing rates by $2 to $5, depending on the type of dog and duration of the license. Adoption fees would go up by 25 percent for all customers. Rabies vaccines would remain at the current level, according to the new report.

As expected, the staff proposal also includes staffing changes, though these changes aren't as drastic as ones the city had previously contemplated. The 13-person staff would see a reduction of 2.6 full-time-equivalent positions. These include the animal-services supervisor and one of four animal-control officers. The city also plans to slash the part-time volunteer-coordinator position with the hope that its duties could be taken over by volunteers.

The loss of an animal-control officer would likely reduce response times in some instances, particularly when there are simultaneous calls for services. This impact, however, would be slightly mitigated by Mountain View's withdrawal from the local operation. Daily calls for services are expected to drop by about 10 per day to seven or eight between November and April and to decline from 13 to about 10 during the busier period of May to October.

"This reduced level of calls will offset some of the impact of the position eliminations, but could still result in days where lower priority calls, such as deceased animal pickups, experience a delayed response and could be held over for the following shift during particularly busy days," Hagerman's report states.

The proposed staffing reductions are expected to save the city $284,426 annually starting next year.

Altogether, the cost reductions would constitute about 60 percent of the funding gap while the revenue increases would make up the other 40 percent.

The changes in Animal Services, while significant, would have been far more dramatic if not for a series of donations from local volunteers and from Santa Clara County, which included a $47,000 allocation for the shelter in its recently approved budget.

The city also received a $35,000 contribution from an anonymous donor for the purpose of keeping the volunteer-coordinator position around for the coming fiscal year. Because of this donation, the city doesn't peg the position for elimination until fiscal year 2014.


Posted by K, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 18, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Palo Alto, home to some of the world's most profitable tech businesses can't even keep their animal shelter afloat. The animals have to pay for the socialist policies that benefit no one aside from government officials.

Posted by Gunn Class of '67, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 19, 2012 at 10:36 am

Gunn Class of '67 is a registered user.

Know many have donated to PA animal services.
Am certain Palo Alto complies with transparent/open government policy.
It would be most helpful if PA online would publish following:
1. Animal services/humane society donor funds by date
2. Net/after overhead funds provided for animal services operations
3. Any diversion of donor funds to other services/programs

Posted by douglas, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 19, 2012 at 10:48 am

Palo Alto city officials are idiots.
Fire the city officials, not our animal control officers who are heroes in saving animals. City officials....wake up and get a clue!

Posted by raionbow38, a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2012 at 11:03 am

Reducing the number of animal control officers is a poor choice for saving money. My experiences with them have been very positive.

More people would use the neuter/spay and other services if the drop-off times were expanded (ideally, whenever the shelter is open) and there wasn't a requirement to pick up the animals the same day. An overnight hold should be possible and would be better for the animals so they can be monitored and get prompt attention if/when needed.

Please correct the error "The loss of an animal-control officer would likely reduce response times..." when it would increase response time.

Posted by lazlo, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm

it's no secret that Keene and Klein want to outsource all city services and leave the managers in to "run" the operation. think your city services are bad now? wait until unaccountable outsourced contractors are running the city. only a matter of time before the contractors smarten up and get rid of the managers and replace them with more cost effective outsourced managers. worked great with the Haliburton and KLS model who took over government operations and now are a muti-billion dollar operation with no accountability.

Posted by Old Town Paly Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I am happy to pay the increase in fees to help to keep the shelter up and running. Knowing lots of other pet owners in Palo Alto, I am sure they feel the same way. We need to keep our Palo Alto Animal Shelter OPEN. Seriously hoping PA City Officials realize that keeping the shelter open is vital to Peninsula residents who own pets.

Posted by Cur Mudgeon, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 19, 2012 at 12:59 pm

No mention of increasing license fees. Know that increasing fees more than minimally will lead to more unlicensed animals.

Posted by Voter, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm

City services are bad now because we are grossly overpaying for labor to staff the bureaucracy. Hiring one city union worker at a cost of 100K per year to sweep the streets (a real number -- see the salary links in the pension discussion) results in service that is half as good and just as expensive as hiring two private sector contractors to do the job at half the cost each.

Outsourcing will increase accountability, because in the private sector, you are fired if you underperform. Those on the city books: not the case.

Posted by Scottie Zimmerman, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2012 at 1:38 pm

I am a volunteer at Palo Alto Animal Services. I am also active in the SOS - Save Our Shelter group. And I'm a member of the new Friends of the Palo Alto Shelter (FoPAAS). Thus I'm in touch with many of the details of where we are now and how we got here.

The City Council and Mayor have been supportive of PAAS, at the same time making clear their obligation to balance the city budget. There's nothing simple about the job they do.

The City Staff, including Manager James Keane, Asst. Manager Pam Antil, Liaison Ian Hagerman, and others have also been supportive. They've heard our requests for time and negotiated fairly with us. Pam and Ian are active in the Stakeholders committee that meets to discuss fund-raising options, details of fee increases, continuation of a voucher system, and more. We're working on solutions with support from the city, from HSSV and other shelters in our area, from local veterinarians, from the Palo Alto Humane Society and other rescue groups. The positive energy and unselfish commitment of the Stakeholders is inspiring.


FIRST: License fees will be increased. We already estimate that 80% or more of the dogs who reside in Palo Alto do NOT have licenses. PAAS is cooperating with local veterinarians to notify owners that their dogs need licenses. The license fees are 100% income for the shelter. PAAS keeps all the money, and if more of the "missing" dogs would come in for licenses, that could provide a huge boost in income. Do the math: 25,000 dogs X $10 per year = $250,000 income. (And $10 per year is less than the actual fee.)

SECOND: All donations made to PAAS belong to PAAS. They have their own bank account. The money is not part of the City budget. The money is for PAAS to use as they see fit. Many generous donations have been coming in, they are greatly appreciated. Thank you, animal lovers! None of the money is diverted to any other city service.

THIRD: Keep your eye on Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter. Web site We're just getting started. We're awaiting incorporation and recognition as a nonprofit. We've got BIG plans for projects in the community that benefit PAAS and all pet owners. We welcome new Friends!

Posted by Angus Burnside, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jul 19, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Keep your eye on Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter"

That is all Palo Alto needs-another self-centered "friends" group--pressuring our council to divert much needed funds for their "pet" project.
The city should be wary of "friends" groups--they are "not really friends of most Palo Alto residents

Posted by Jmal, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 19, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Scottie -

Thanks for sharing your insight.

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 20, 2012 at 8:47 am

As I've stated before, I have no issue with maintaining our Animal Services just as long as the proposed fee increases, budget cuts, and fundraising efforts offset the amount of money the city could have saved by outsourcing. Also, these cost saving measures cannot just be a one time deal when supporters are in a survival mode. This cost saving measures must be met on an annual basis. They have to show that the center can sustain and support itself indefinitely.

Here is why this is important. Other friends groups, like the Palo Alto Children's Theater supporters, were faced with proposed participant fee hikes and budget cuts in 2010. The city was looking for ways to streamline the budget and this was one of the many measures. As expected the PACT Friend's Group bemoaned the proposal and essentially shouted it down. In return, PACT promised to offset the money the city would have saved through fundraising. They promised.

So here is my question which I believe is very relevant to this overall discussion. Did PACT in fact raise the sufficient funds or not? If our city leaders and elected officials are going to buckle to every publicly funded friend's group who avoid budget reductions by "promising" to make up the difference through fundraising, shouldn't they be held accountable for that promise. If they can raise sufficient funds to help support their special interest on a continual, annual basis then no problem. If they can't, then other measures have to be taken. We cannot simply accept a promise and not follow-up on it.

So, I will ask again. Does Palo Alto Online or anyone with legitimate knowledge know if in fact the Children's Theater Friend's Group were successful?

Posted by PA Tax Payer, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm

At a recent public hearing employees of the animal shelter said nearly all the stray animals they rescue are in neighboring communities. Why should the taxpayers of Palo Alto continue to keep this animal shelter alive just for the benefit of neighboring communities?

It's time we consolidated tax payer animal care with Santa Clara County and no longer subsidize animal care for neighboring communities.

It's time to increase fees and reduce staff and have our neighbors pay their share for these services.

Posted by PA Resident & PA Tax Payer, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jul 20, 2012 at 4:09 pm

I agree 150% with "PA Tax Payer"

"At a recent public hearing employees of the animal shelter said nearly all the stray animals they rescue are in neighboring communities. Why should the taxpayers of Palo Alto continue to keep this animal shelter alive just for the benefit of neighboring communities?
It's time we consolidated tax payer animal care with Santa Clara County and no longer subsidize animal care for neighboring communities.
It's time to increase fees and reduce staff and have our neighbors pay their share for these services."

PA residents incur increases every year from having our own utility company and our own recycling/trash facility. We reap the benefits of these type of increases by having lower rates when it comes to services for our pet handled at the PAAS. And our neighboring cities also get this benefit??? for what? they do no contribute to our city, they do not get taxed by our city and they reap the benefits of their own cities as well...I say not anymore!

ANY Non-PA resident should incur these increases.

My 2nd and final point is this...why is a VOLUNTEER being cut? They are a volunteer...hello????? Free worker!

"2.6 full-time-equivalent positions would be cut from the 13-person staff, including the animal-services supervisor and one of four animal-control officers, along with the part-time volunteer coordinator."


Posted by Scottie Zimmerman, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2012 at 1:15 am

PA Taxpayer and PA Resident, you are misquoting or have misunderstood what you think you read or heard. It is not true that "nearly all the animals they rescue are in neighboring communities." Not so.

What is true is that a majority of the animals brought in for spay & neuter surgery come from communities outside Palo Alto and our partner cities, Mountain View, Los Altos, and Los Altos Hills. What is also true is that PAAS like ALL the shelters in the Bay Area encourages people to spay & neuter so we can avoid the tragedy (and drain on community resources) resulting from unwanted puppies and kittens.

The only animals PAAS "rescues" are from Palo Alto and our partner cities. If a citizen brings a dog to PAAS that they found running loose in a Menlo Park apartment complex, PAAS is not allowed to accept (i.e., rescue) the dog. An over-the-counter surrender is accepted only when the animal was found in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, and Los Altos Hills. All those cities pay PAAS for the animal services we provide.

Finally, the Volunteer Coordinator is a paid half-time employee of PAAS. Her job consists of recruiting, training, and scheduling the 55 volunteers who work for free at PAAS. Through the volunteers she trains and manages, the VC can be credited with 3000+ hours of important work for the shelter -- at no cost to the shelter. Her half-time salary is little enough to pay for the returns she generates. In addition to managing volunteers, she also picks up the slack when PAAS staff need extra help answering phones, assisting customers, and completing paperwork.

Your comments reveal ignorance or a lack of concern for the truth. Which is it?

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 21, 2012 at 10:26 am

And no longer will Mountain View be a partner city Scottie, which is one of the primary reasons Palo Alto looked to outsource our animal services. Let's not overlook that major detail as well. I sincerely hope that the PACT Friend's Group fundraising efforts and increased service fees offset what Palo Alto tax payers would have saved from outsourcing, and, can maintain that cash flow annually. If not, then the city's decision to outsource would be that much easier.

Posted by Stop the waste in Palo alto, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 21, 2012 at 10:36 am

"Your comments reveal ignorance or a lack of concern for the truth. Which is it?"

Looks like Scottie's take is the only acceptable one. No other opinions will be tolerated. Too bad.

Scottie, do you abuse the animals in the shelter or do you beat your wife? Which is it?

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 21, 2012 at 11:16 am

Stop the Waste, before she points it out, as she did with me in a previous thread, Scottie would be a Ms. or Mrs. Generally speaking however I do agree with the basic gist of your take.

Posted by Scottie Zimmerman, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Marrol, You keep running on about PACT, and I have nothing to do with that. It has nothing to do with Palo Alto Animal Services. Why don't you ask your questions somewhere where PACT can answer? Or try writing a letter to the City Council?

I'm amused that you and Stop the Waste are offended by my reiteration of facts.

Yes, as of Nov. 1, Mountain View's animal services will be the responsibility of Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority (SVACA).

Another fact, 18 years ago, when Mt. View joined with PAAS, Palo Alto hired 1 (that's ONE) new ACO. PAAS went from having 12 full-time positions to having 14 positions; 2 of those are 1/2-time jobs. In other words, PAAS has the equivalent of 13 full-time salaries vs. 12 as of 18 years ago. Where's the "waste" in that?

Mountain View will be missed. But PAAS has not grown fat on their coattails. The shelter operates with great efficiency and provides services few other shelters can match. And I predict that Mountain View may miss PAAS....

PAAS is not, nor has it ever been, connected to PACT. Although I do think children's theater is a vital asset to our community. Art saves lives.

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 21, 2012 at 6:05 pm

I never suggested that PAAS and PACT were affiliated. What draws the comparison however is that both services were faced with budget cuts and/or user fee increases/outsourcing. Friends groups from each service rallied and shouted down these measures in part by promising to raise private funds to offset what tax payers would have saved by taking those cost cutting measures. PACT avoided the budget cuts and user fees through this tactic in 2010, much in the same manner that PAAS spared itself from being outsourced most recently.

So, I'm curious to see if PACT was successful in their efforts and made good on their promise. Our city leaders cannot be pressured into reversing cost cutting measures every time a special interest or friend's group shouts them down with promises of raising private funds, and then not ensure that the objective is being met. These friends groups have to be held accountable to these promises, and if they come up short, it's time to make cuts or outsource services.

The PACT issue in this regard is absolutely relevant to what has transpired with PAAS avoiding being outsourced. If the city failed to hold PACT accountable, then I would have serious reservations about extending a similar policy to PAAS. That is why I'm drawing the comparison and has everything to do with policy making when it comes to dealing with these friend's groups. It's called the big picture.

Again, as I've stated on numerous occasions, I sincerely hope that the PAAS Friend's Group and user fee hikes can offset the half million dollars that tax payers would have saved annually by outsourcing. If they can sustain that indefinitely then more power to them. If they cannot, then citizens calling for fiscal responsibility in local government will be watching.

Posted by Kumar, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2012 at 9:22 am

Is East Palo Alto considered a partner city

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 22, 2012 at 10:35 am

I do not believe that East Palo Alto is a partner city, but I've heard that PAAS will extend certain services as if they were just to help out and support because they can't afford to join. Besides, you're in a different county so I think that may be a limitation as well.

Posted by kumar, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2012 at 12:58 pm


Posted by Concerned, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Arguments aside, the reality is that when spay and neuter fees rise, especially for those outside Palo Alto, fewer animals will be neutered or spayed. In the long term this will cost us more. I also think that the clinic needs to offer more convenient hours for the public. doing so would also increase revenue.

Posted by Scottie Zimmerman, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Concerned -- I agree that raising fees for spay/neuter surgery could cause people outside (or even inside) Palo Alto to hesitate because of the cost. The staff at PAAS also share your concern. The primary goal of the shelter is to ensure the health of animals in the community and to prevent unwanted pregnancies (puppies, kittens, rabbits).

PAAS, with generous support from the Palo Alto Humane Society, has a strong "voucher" system to mitigate the cost of spay/neuter for families with limited income and for local rescue groups that trap/neuter/release feral cats. The voucher system continues and is likely to be enhanced once Friends of the Palo Alto Shelter (FoPAAS) completes incorporation and gains nonprofit status.

We are determined not to forfeit our good record with spay/neuter services.

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

David's Tea: now open in downtown Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 6 comments | 2,803 views

Foothills Park: a world away
By Sally Torbey | 17 comments | 1,879 views

On Tour at Selective Schools: Chapman, La Verne, Redlands, Whittier
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 1,584 views

Two Days to Save This Dog?
By Cathy Kirkman | 13 comments | 910 views

It Depends... Disguising Real Characters in Fiction
By Nick Taylor | 0 comments | 241 views