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[whitespace] Town has to pony up cash for animal control service

Los Gatos--Taking care of stray animals in Los Gatos just became a lot more expensive, as the town council voted 4-1 to become part of The Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority.

The new agency is the result of the Humane Society of Santa Clara Valley ending its animal services contract with area cities, effective June 2001. The Humane Society is getting out of the business because of recent changes in state law requiring longer stays for animals, adoptable or not.

Los Gatos will add a grand total of $647,472 as its share for the formation of the agency, the purchase and remodel of the current Humane Society facility and the first two years of operating expenses. The new joint powers authority (JPA) involves and serves the cities of Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Campbell, Cupertino, Monte Sereno, Saratoga and Los Gatos.

While Los Gatos' monetary contribution represents only eight to 12 percent of the starting and ongoing operating costs of the new JPA, the cost over the next two years is almost $481,000 more than the town would pay under its current contract with the Humane Society.

Councilwoman Linda Lubeck pulled the issue off the consent calendar at the council's Aug. 7 meeting, raising concerns over the cost of the agency. Lubeck later said that while she had no answer to the problem, she didn't think other alternatives were adequately explored.

"I don't have anything to compare it with other than what we're doing with the Humane Society, which costs half as much," Lubeck said.

Options that had briefly been considered were contracting with San Jose and building a new shelter facility in the West Valley. JPA cities resisted the idea of contracting with or entering an agency with San Jose because San Jose would have ultimate say on most issues. The idea of building a new shelter was also rejected, due to the estimated $6 million price tag. Buying and revamping the Humane Society's existing shelter will cost approximately $3 million.

Los Gatos' share of that $3 million will be $254,100. Throw in a field services cost of $47,786 a year, operational costs of $125,700 a year and $46,670 for the initial formation of the JPA, and you have the $650,000 it will cost Los Gatos over the next two years.

Mayor Steve Blanton said he wasn't happy about the increased cost of services, but the town had no realistic alternatives. "Nobody wants to do it, it's just something we have to do," Blanton said. "It's a result of one of those unfunded mandates Sacramento passes on [to local governments]."

The law, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles), extended the amount of time that shelters are required to keep stray animals alive from three to four days.

Lubeck said that while she understands the town has to find a way to provide animal services, she thinks it's premature to create a new entity. "You've just set up a whole new arm of government," Lubeck said. "I really detest setting up new entities unless you have to, and I just haven't been convinced we have to."

Once the JPA is in effect, it will provide a plethora of services, most of which were provided by the Humane Society. Field services will include picking up stray domestic animals, dead animals and wildlife, and injured animals, responding to emergency calls, and investigating complaints of dangerous and loose animals, as well as animal cruelty.

The JPA will also take over the medical responsibilities of the Humane Society, including hiring veterinary personnel and conducting vaccination clinics. Dead animal services--pick-up, identification, notification of owners and disposal--will be part of the JPA's responsibilities.
Nathan R. Huff

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