City, county at odds over animal services

Madera had stopped paying its agreed-upon fees

After many years of an informal financial deal, the Madera County Board of Supervisors was prepared to stop providing animal shelter services to the City of Madera, citing the non-payment of $175,000 for months of services already supplied.

The Madera County Animal Shelter, along with their volunteer group, The Friends of Madera Animal Shelter, make available many community resources for both city and county residents. These include housing for stray animals, quarantine of vicious or dangerous animals, low cost spay and neuter services, pet adoptions, volunteer opportunities, vaccine clinics, licensing, micro chipping, lost and found record keeping for missing animals, intake, triage and care of sick or injured animals, rescue and relocation of unwanted homeless animals, investigation of animal-cruelty cases. They also provide injury or end-of-life euthanasia services and deceased animal disposal, in addition to education and information regarding the humane treatment of animals.

At the March 27 Board of Supervisors meeting, Madera County Chief Administrative Officer Eric Fleming said that city residents were responsible for at least 40 percent of the unwanted or stray animals surrendered, or delivered to the Madera County Animal Shelter by city animal control officers but the city had not paid anything on its bill since June of 2017.

After much back and forth contact with the previous city administrator, some of it contentious, the city and county had finally agreed upon $175,000 per year for fiscal year 2015-2016, according to Fleming, but that amount had again been questioned by the city administrator, and payments were then halted by the city.

“We were into the 2017 fiscal year and all of a sudden that (payment amount) stopped from the city. We’re not quite sure what happened there. We just (now) want to get this resolved and we want to continue to provide the services. We also thought after talking to the current city administrator that we needed to update the (animal services) fee study, so we have all the backup we need to demonstrate the city’s fair share of costs. This new amount is based on the city’s actual per animal cost,” Fleming said.

Fleming said that had a private business not paid its bills for this many months, any services provided would have been discontinued long ago, and he was also recommending a formal written agreement be drafted and entered into with the city for animal shelter services as soon as possible.

“Last Friday, we received a partial payment from the city of $81,000, leaving a balance (owed) of approximately $50,250 to bring it current. We had (previously) agreed to spread it out equally and over 12 months, which comes out to about $14,500 per month (for the previously agreed upon amounts).” he said. “We have opened a new dialog, but it may take a while to get over the previous relationship, because it was a tense one. There was no communication. But I am confident the new administrator and I can work this out.” Fleming said.

Newly appointed Madera City Administrator Steve Frazier was in the audience for the meeting item and said he didn’t necessarily agree with the proposed amounts, but agreed that new written agreements with the county were necessary, and any discussions on the proposed fee amounts were progress for the animal services provided by the county. The city is reportedly shopping around for other animal options, including shipping city animals out to various Fresno animal control providers.

The existing budget of The Madera County Animal Shelter is $1.4 million dollars, with the city’s 40 percent share of that being approximately $511,000 annually, according to Fleming. However, the 2016 Madera County Grand Jury report found that the Madera County Animal Shelter, built in the 1950s, is much too small and is seriously underfunded, by at least half, for the large number of animals and the increasing human population it now serves.

Animal shelter volunteers have long criticized the City of Madera for being short-sighted and miserly, for not contributing any funds to their preventative efforts for low cost spay or neutering for city residents animals, to help reduce the large dog and cat population.

According to The Friends of Madera Animal Shelter treasurer and long time volunteer Kay Rhoads, “The city has never contributed a dime to FMAS for spay or neuter of city animals. Not for education, transportation. Not for vaccines, not for medications for sick animals. Nothing. We (volunteers) have raised and spent over $1.5 million dollars and done the work, in the last 15 years to help Madera animals. We’ve had to do it all. Shame on you, shame on all of you,” Rhoads told the Madera city administration and city council in November as she appeared to request any contribution to help the volunteer group continue their low cost spay and neuter services. The funding request was declined by the mayor and City Council.

Rather than duplicate efforts or contract for animal services, shelter director Kirsten Gross and shelter volunteers have instead promoted a more equitable partnership with the city, ideally with a new, larger central animal shelter facility in which local cities and areas contribute and participate more equitably in the operation.