Garden Grove Considers Cutting Ties With the County’s Animal Shelter

As the county asks member cities to commit to a 10-year contract to help pay for a new $35 million animal shelter, Garden Grove officials are considering cutting ties with the county and signing a five-year contract with the Orange County Humane Society for shelter services.

The main reason behind the potential move is an ongoing budget deficit that has forced city leaders to take a close look at all costs, including the increasing price of its contract with OC Animal Care.

Garden Grove is the third largest user of county animal services behind Anaheim and Santa Ana. And it joins Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita and Laguna Hills in considering other options for their shelter, field and licensing services.

The city paid $729,163 for animal care services in fiscal year 2011-12 and $956,296 in 2014-15, according to a staff report. Costs are expected to reach $1.35 million by the end of this fiscal year 2015-16.

Additionally, the county is asking its 18 contract cities to commit by April 30 to contribute to the cost of building a new county shelter. Part of the impetus for the new shelter have been years criticism of the current shelter’s conditions, including a scathing 2015 Grand Jury report.

At Tuesday’s Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting, animal advocates accused OC Animal Care officials of lying about kill rates.

Garden Grove would have to contribute an estimated $4.1 million toward the shelter over ten years, or a $430,828 annual payment. That would push city’s total cost for animal services to $1.78 million next fiscal year, according to the staff report.

Meanwhile, the Humane Society has submitted a proposal for a five-year contract at an estimated annual rate of $290,000 for up to 3,500 animals and $310,000 for up to 3,900 animals, with a daily rate of $7 per dog and $5 per cat over the 3,900 limit.

The city would also agree to a one-time cost of up to $25,000 for the expansion of the Humane Society’s facilities.

But under the Humane Society deal the city would have to handle field and licensing services in-house, which staff estimates could cost at least $700,000. The city would need to hire new staff and create a temporary storing facility, according to Public Works Director Bill Murray.

This left council members skeptical of the true cost savings of switching to the Humane Society.

Should the city decide to opt back in to county animal services, they would still have to pay their share for the cost of the new facility, according to deputy city manager Maria Stipe.

City manager Scott Stiles said he was “not thrilled” about the city taking on the additional responsibility but was concerned about the rapidly rising cost of the county contract.

He noted that it is also not unprecedented for cities to operate their own animal services, noting that the city of Westminster contracts out for shelter services and operates licensing and field services in-house.

“Do we have the answer to every single thing? No we do not, but we’ll have to get to work on it,” Stiles said.

Council members were also concerned about some $6 million in unpaid fines and fees that the county will ultimately charge to its 18 contract cities, although it is unclear how much each city will pay and if they will be legally obligated to pay, according to Stipe.

Two OC Animal Care employees and a representative from the Orange County Employees Association, Luis Schmidt, asked the city to slow down on the proposal and consider the quality of services that the county is able to provide.

Julie Ashleigh, a resident of Garden Grove and city employee, also criticized the switch, questioning the quality of the Humane Society’s facility based on the number of poor reviews on the online user review site Yelp.

The city of Newport Beach terminated their contract with the Humane Society last November after complaints about animal care and kennels being hosed down with animals still inside, according to the Orange County Register. The Humane Society currently contracts with the city of Costa Mesa.

“I know a lot of decisions are based on finances, but you need to look at the totality, and what it’s actually going to cost the city,” Ashleigh said.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.