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.