What is the Cost of Animal Services?
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What is the Cost of Animal Services?

There are very few of us who have not heard of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA (PHS) and some of the work they do but few know neither how the system works nor how they are funded.

The 20 cities and towns in San Mateo County have a contract with the County to provide all animal control and licensing services. In turn, the County contracts with the PHS for some of the mandated animal control responsibilities and with PetData, Inc for some of the licensing responsibilities. PetData, Inc is an organization that provides animal licensing services to municipalities throughout the United States. The PHS is a local private non-profit organization that adheres to the theme of fostering a harmonious relationship between human and animal.

The contract that PHS has with the County was for 12 years (2003-2015) and is coming up for renewal in June 2015. The PHS and the County are expecting to start negotiations starting January 1, 2014 with some discussions that have already taking place. The PHS provides shelter services which amount to about 73% of their operating costs and field services which accounts for the remaining 27%. Operating under the humane ethic, PHS accepts all animals in need of care and often provides a second chance to the animals most in need as well as those who would be "not accepted" by those agencies that accept only highly adoptable animals.

There are some overwhelming numbers and analysis that has been done with some approximations made from average data from other counties. It is estimated that out of the 720,000 people in San Mateo County, there are about 200,500 households that have pets amounting to approximately 387,000 dogs and cats. Of the estimated 387,000 dogs and cats about 39,000 have licenses, a disappointing 10% and that licensing revenue has amounted to about $700,000. PHS collects approximately $200,000 in other revenues. The annual cost of operating the Shelter approximates $6,100,000 so some simple math comes to about a $5,200,000 shortfall that is made up from population pro-rata shares from each of the city's General Fund.

These costs would be even greater if it were not for the indispensable volunteers who donate thousands of hours of their time to the various departments within the Shelter. In the first year of the contract (2003-04) the PHS Contracted amount was $4.454 million and by the final year (2014-15) that number is expected to be reach $5.944 million. In a given year, the cost of the 7,900 animals sheltered is about $493 for each animal.

The current Shelter on Airport Boulevard in San Mateo has reached obsolescence and is in much need of "redevelopment". The land upon which the building sits is owned by the County and is leased to PHS but the building is owned and operated by the PHS. The construction of a new Animal Care Shelter facility is currently estimated to be approximately $20,200,000. There is a proposal that the County will pay a maximum of $20.2 million to build a new animal care shelter if the cities agree to a 30-year, interest free lease and that the construction costs be borne by those (municipalities) that used the building on a 3-year average pro-rata usage basis. As arrangements are being worked out between the County and PHS, revised agreements are expected to reach the cities during the first six-months of 2014 with the hopes of starting construction in the summer of 2014. I just became aware of these issues last week and will remain skeptical as to the final outcome and related costs.

In an effort to defray some of the ever-increasing costs, there is a proposal to encourage cities to do outreach to pet owners to license their pets. Since licensing revenue from about 39,000 pets can generate about $700,000, it is not difficult to imagine the amount of revenue that could be garnered from the approximately 387,000 pets. In the past, licensing revenue went into one general fund, however, the new proposal is that licensing monies collected will be allocated to the cities in which they were collected. There is a substantial discount for senior pet owners who license their dog and a lesser discount for licensing their cat.

I do not know what structure the County/City/PHS relationship will finally end up looking like but it is clear to me that we need animal services from both a health and safety need as well as an ethical one as the number of pet owners continues to grow. We also need to protect our wildlife for future generations. The next time you see a dead animal on highway 280 or an unfamiliar dog or cat roaming your neighborhood, you might think about who is on the other end of the phone when you call if you are so inclined to make that call.

I would appreciate your comments on this and other issues by emailing me at akiesel@fostercity.org. or 650-573-7359.

Council Corner

December 04, 2013
What is the Cost of Animal Services?
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