“Animal Friends” Responds…

…IN A NOT SO FRIENDLY MANNER

In a well written article by Press Enterprise reporter, Michael J. Williams, which initially appeared on the front page of yesterday’s Press Enterprise newspaper, staff and board members of the Animal Friends of the Valleys responded defiantly to the reality that the City of Wildomar might consider seceding from participation in the Southwest Communities Financing Authority, which  provides governmental oversight for the operation of the  non-profit animal shelter.

 The text of the article is printed in its entirety, (with my comments in blue), and can be read, as originally published, by clicking on the following link:

http://blog.pe.com/2013/06/28/wildomar-city-to-explore-opening-its-own-animal-shelter/

A City Hall watchdog is spurring Wildomar to consider doing its own dogcatching.

Discouraged by the high cost of relying on the regional animal services — including a new shelter built in Wildomar — the City Council agreed during budget talks this week to explore opening its own facility and hiring its own animal control personnel.

Gil Rasmussen, a persistent city government critic, broached the concept, contending the city could run its own operation for about $170,000 a year. That’s nearly $280,000 less than what the regional operator is charging the city for the coming fiscal year starting July 1.

Wildomar financial analyst Misty Cheng had different numbers, but calculated the city could provide its own shelter and services, including a supervisor and control officer, for about $284,000 per year. The council has approved City Manager Gary Nordquist’s proposal to hold a workshop in the near future to explore the idea.

“That’s the response I was looking for,” Rasmussen said. “I was pleased when I got the numbers from Misty Cheng. As long as they look at it, I think they’ll find that they really have to do it.”

Regional animal services officials, however, doubt the city could provide their level of care and have the ability to respond to emergency situations involving animals.

Executive Director Willa Bagwell of Animal Friends of the Valleys, the shelter’s nonprofit operator, said there’s a lot more involved than just hiring an officer and installing a kennel. She said for the city to attempt such an effort on a shoestring budget would be “very sad for the animals and the community” and a return to the “Third World conditions” of the old regional shelter in LakeElsinore.

The “Third World conditions” that Bagwell describes were the conditions that she presided over when Animal Friends was  operated as  Lake Elsinore Animal Friends (“LEAF”).

An animal control facility operated by the City of Wildomar would not have to rely on the “heartstrings” and “shoestrings” of donations and volunteers.    

“If they go this route, I wish them the best of luck,” she said. “I think it’s completely going backwards.”

The hiring of two professional animal control officers, who are properly trained and, working “full-time,” as opposed to a contract of service for five hours per day, is hardly going backwards.”

Before Wildomar incorporated in 2008, the cities of Temecula, Murrieta, LakeElsinore and CanyonLake formed a coalition with the county to build a new shelter that would replace the decrepit one in LakeElsinore that SouthwestRiversideCounty had relied on for decades.

Through a $15-million bond measure, the coalition, known as the Southwest Communities Financing Authority, funded the construction of the state-of-the-art shelter that opened in October 2010 at Mission Trail and Corydon Street, just inside Wildomar’s northern boundary with Lake Elsinore.

The construction excesses which resulted in the $12 million canine/cat Taj Mahal, and which requires repayment of a $15 million bond is a typical outcome of the unfortunate coalition of 501(c)(3) non-profit “dreamers” and politicians seeking their votes.

The members agreed to share costs based on the percentage of animals arriving at the shelter from each jurisdiction.

Enticed by the quality of the shelter and services, Wildomar officials decided to join the coalition after incorporating. The move, however, brought fiscal issues. Though the city’s population is about 33,000, it has experienced a much higher rate of animals entering the shelter than Murrieta and Temecula.

When the shelter was in Lake Elsinore, the “higher rate of animals” was always Lake Elsinore’s problem. Now that the Animal Friends shelter is in Wildomar, the higher rate  is suddenly Wildomar’s problem. Fortunately, secession from the Animal Friends JPA will  eliminate that problem.

As a result, this year the city’s price tag for the year starting July 1 is $448,600, only about $28,000 less than Temecula, with a population of more than 100,000.

Mayor Walker is spot on when he states the allocation is “unfair.”

Nordquist and Councilwoman Bridgette Moore, the city’s representative on the coalition board, have pleaded with other agency members to revisit the formula to no avail.

Because the other “agency members” don’t believe that the city of Wildomar has the intelligence or political courage  to secede from the JPA, there is no need to negotiate.

Why plead when it’s easier to secede? And keep our municipal dignity!  

The city’s $284,000 proposal, in addition to hiring a supervisor and control officer, includes spending on a truck, cages, a holding and sheltering facility, and operations.

That $284,000 proposal doesn’t reflect the $80,000 in annual license revenues that is given away to the Animal Friends, making the NET cost of the proposal closer to $200,000 per year.   Further, apply another $80,000 in Developer Impact Fees and the NET number is actually  $120,000 annually, an astonishing difference.

Secession from the Animal Friends JPA will create two full-time jobs, with benefits. In addition, a local commercial property will benefit economically from a leased property.  

“It definitely needs to be explored,” Moore said. “Probably not everything has been thought of as far as costs go, but it should be explored.”

I will admit that my proposal did not include the cost of a Keurig coffee system for  the future animal control officers.

A major obstacle to the city striking out own its own could be its agreement to participate in paying down the debt on the shelter’s financing. The city’s share of debt service in the next year is $219,000. Getting out of that obligation, which would escalate the other agencies’ costs, might be difficult from a legal standpoint, said Animal Friends’ board president Kristine Anderson.

 The only “obstacle” is getting the City of Wildomar to write a letter to the Animal Friends JPA, putting them on notice of the city of Wildomar’s withdrawal from the JPA in 45 days, and  reimbursing the JPA for any money  owed to them, such as the $57,000 “loan” to the City of Wildomar from last year, when Wildomar could not make its full payment.

Since the $15 million bond was in place prior to the city of Wildomar joining the JPA , the City of Wildomar is not on the hook for the bond.     

As far as animal services, Anderson said Wildomar may be underestimating what is needed to provide round-the-clock animal services, including emergency calls.

 When Wildomar hires two full-time animal control officers, they will be hired as “exempt” employees, making them available for “round-the-clock animal services.”

 On the other hand, Wildomar may discover how exorbitant the five hours of daily service truly was under the Animal Friends JPA!

“It all sounds good, but it gets down to brass tacks in terms of full coverage,” she said. “You need a lot more than you’d think.”

 According to my calculations, The City of Wildomar will have approximately $320,000 as a “Fudge Factor” for “brass tack” contingencies, should they arise .

 Comments can be made to zakturango@excite.com.

For the record, Animal Friends will not be significantly diminished should the City of Wildomar secede from the JPA. It will only mean that the original members of the agency, Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore and Riverside County will be forced to pay their original allocations/shares.

Heck, it was their idea in the first place.

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