Heading into Tuesday's Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting, OC Animal Care needed a financial lifeline to stay open, but it appears the county's pet education, temporary shelter and medical program may have got one.
Supervisors voted 3-1 to research a plan to raise OC Animal Care fees, something that has not been done since 2008. Along with dipping into the general fund to help cover a $1.4 million budget shortfall, the board's strategy would maintain the current level of service without deep cuts–or elimination of the government agency altogether.
Supervisor Janet Nguyen gave the "no" vote, and Supervisor Patricia Bates abstained. In addition to the fee increases that will be passed along to cities that contract with the county for animal-control services, Nguyen and Bates were willing to kick in an additional $400,000 from the county's general fund.
That would only leave the OC Animal Care a couple hundred grand short, and agency director Ryan Drabek has a plan to bring in more funding by getting more cities under contract. Nguyen rejected the bigger-is-better idea, saying she does not want another Orange County Fire Authority or Orange County Transportation Authority.
But Supervisor John Moorlach, who had talked heading into the meeting about cutting the government agency altogether and privatizing animal care services in the county, argued increased costs should not be shared by all (through the general fund) but the pet owners who rely on OC Animal Care.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who noted he's received no complaints about OC Animal Care, opined that county officials need to do a better job of explaining its services are more expensive than those of city-run shelters because the county agency totally relies on fees.
County officials maintain the budget shortfall is due to rising costs of medicine, medical service, employee pensions and workers compensation. Deep cost-cutting actions were floated before the meeting, including closing the OC Animal Care facility in Orange on Mondays.
Now Drabek and his staff are to return to the board after doing more research on how to expand the reach of the animal care department and which fees should be raised and by how much.
"I'm excited to maintain our services,'' Drabek told City News Service after the vote. "I'm very pleased how complimentary they were of our services and that they want to maintain it."