The Escondido City Council at its June 24 meeting by a vote of 4-0 approved of a three-year agreement with the San Diego Humane Society to continue to provide animal services for the city through FY 2023.
The costs are below:
Year 1 = $1,047,306 (No increase from current agreement)
Year 2 = $1,204,402
Year 3 = $1,385,062
The item was part of the meeting’s consent agenda, however Councilmember Olga Diaz pulled it because she was concerned about the increased costs and wanted the public to be aware of them.
“This is an area that is increasingly expensive for us,” she said. “There’s a significant escalation of costs and the public needs to be aware of what it costs to provide animal control services.”
Because Animal Control comes under the police department budget, Chief Ed Varso explained the background. Escondido has used the San Diego Humane Society services since 2014, after it merged with the Escondido Humane Society.
“Going into this agreement we had extensive negotiations with San Diego Humane Society and then we also looked at what other options there were for providing animal control services in the city,” said Varso. He said he personally has been looking at cutting costs for two years now.
The other options include 1) Joint Powers Agreement (A JPA study was done in 2014 by Escondido, San Marcos and Oceanside); 2) In-house animal control services; 3) Contract with another animal control entity and 4) Animal services agreement with San Diego Humane Society.
The JPA study conducted by a consulting firm, “showed that the city’s obligations would be somewhere in the area of $1.6 million to $2 million or just our piece of that. In addition to bond measures that would be needed to construct an animal shelter,” said Varso. “The possibility still exists. It’s something that we can still explore going into future endeavors—if other cities were interested in pursuing that direction.”
Looking at the costs if the city assumed full control of animal control services, Varso said, “What we came up with was it would cost about $1.8 million a year—and operational expenses—and the city would also have to come up with about $14 million roughly for the cost of building.” This option would probably provide a much reduced service, “compared to what we received currently from San Diego,” he said, adding, “and even that price tag was about $1.4 million a year and operational expenses against owning the shelter as well.”
They also investigated other entities they might contract with to provide animal services. “Right now in San Diego County there are a couple local municipalities that have their own operations that are not interested in contracting with the County that would be the next closest option,” said the chief.
San Diego County Animal Services had contract cities for many years until recently when the County got out of the business. The cities it contracted with now contract with San Diego Humane Society. “So that too is not an option for us,” said Varso.
The city had conversations with the Humane Society to better understand why the costs are as so high. Staff learned that the Humane Society calculates animal control costs based on services specific to Escondido.
Most of these expenses are related to:
- Veterinary services
- Animal intake
- Animal care and shelter
- Humane law enforcement calls for service
- Humane law enforcement field services.
Philanthropic and charitable donations to the San Diego Humane Society cover about 30% of Escondido’s total animal control costs. In other words, the city doesn’t pay that percentage.
Diaz wanted to make sure the Humane Society acknowledges that Escondido provides the land and building where the shelter operates at almost no cost and that some of animal services it provides from that location are to the unincorporated areas and to cities other than Escondido.
Council member Mike Morasco said he was glad that Diaz had asked these questions. “Those are the same questions I have had,” he said. “We have been dealing with this situation for several years now and hoping we could come up with a solution to this conundrum we have.”
He noted that in the past one problem was that some “elective” procedures the city had no control over included animals from outside city jurisdiction.
“Is that addressed in that thirty percent you were talking about the comes from other funding?” Morasco asked. “Or are we still obligated for any and all services they provide regardless of whether or not that is part of the services we are contracting with them for?”
Varso said that very issue was one part of the first conversations city staff had with the Humane Society. “We have drilled down on making sure we’re paying for what is appropriate for animal control services,” he said.
The original proposed costs from the Humane Society included a 141% increase—which would have cost the city $2.5 million for FY 2020-21 with a 15% annual increase.
“We are going to continue to have conversations on how we provide better services and keep costs down,” said Varso.
He told the council, “So what we’re proposing here tonight is recommending approval of a three year agreement that would have no increase in year one. Initially there was talk about increases in year one, two and three. Given the economic circumstances being generated by COVID-19 we negotiated a no increase in year one with increases in year two in year three.”
He added that the Humane Society is exploring other ways to generate income, including increasing fees for service.