Municipalities might pay more for shelter services

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The numbers haven't been firmed up yet, but it seems clear that entities bringing animals to the Valencia County Animal Shelter should prepare for increased costs.

Valencia County Manager Bruce Swingle said the county is in a position where it needs to "clarify and adjust to appropriate levels" the amount it charges for shelter services to the four municipalities and the Pueblo of Isleta.

"Currently, expenses just for sheltering services are $516,000 a year," said Swingle. "We (the unincorporated county) are responsible for about 60 percent of the animals at the shelter and we are paying about 78 percent of the cost."

Swingle said other jurisdictions account for about 40.6 percent of the animals and are paying about 12.7 percent of the expense.

The county wants to see the entities pay sheltering costs based on the percentage of animals they each bring in, he said.

County attorneys are drafting a new sample joint powers agreement, the manager said, which will be reviewed and discussed by the county commissioners before being presented to the five entities.

The current fees, some of which could more than double under the new agreements, are based on the number of animals brought in from each jurisdiction on an annual basis, Swingle said.

Under the current JPAs, the city of Belen pays $33,732, the village of Los Lunas $34,614, the town of Peralta is charged $13,200, the village of Bosque Farms pays $5,436 and the Pueblo of Isleta is charged $6,792.

Based on the amounts in those agreements, the county collected $93,774 against the $516,000 in operating costs.

"The difference in cost is what the county adsorbed," Swingle said. "This is going to be a negotiation. The county is not going to go to these entities saying, 'This is the price — period.'

"We all have budget constraints and we understand the county will most likely always pay the lion's share of the costs."

If the county charges on a per animal basis for the upcoming year, the fees would be based on 2012 impound numbers.

In 2012, Los Lunas brought in 1,008 animals, a cost of $73,844; Belen had 627 animals totalling $45,959; Peralta brought 294 animals to the shelter at a cost of $31,087; Bosque Farms impounded 242 animals at $17,557 and Isleta brought in 464 animals for $34,082.

The newly formed city of Rio Communities will be part of the picture eventually, Swingle said.

"We will take that up with them at a later time," he said.

This year alone there have been 225 impounds from Rio Communities, which under the new pricing structure would cost $23,685.

So far, Bosque Farms Clerk/Administrator Gayle Jones said she hasn't received anything official from the county, but did have a conversation with Swingle in which he indicated the possible increase.

Those increases are not included in the village's budget for next year, she said.

"There has been no increase budgeted," Jones said. "And I don't agree with the way they are doing this. It needs to be done on a per animal basis and they need to come up with a cost that is not astronomical per animal."

More often than not, if the village's animal control officer picks up an injured animal, it is taken to a local veterinarian for treatment, Jones said, negating medical costs for the county shelter.

And animals that are picked up are kept in the village as often as possible, she said, usually through volunteer foster homes.

"We print posters of found animals, put pictures and information up on our Facebook page," Jones said. "It doesn't cost us an arm an a leg. I think the cost should be similar to housing prisoners — a set fee per day and of course, any incidental expenses on top."

Jones said she and Police Chief Greg Jones questioned whether the new rates the county was requesting were "market comparable."

"Are other people in the state, across the country paying the same prices? We were told probably not, because the facility is old," she said. "I'm not sure that's our problem."

Gregory Martin, the Los Lunas village administrator, recently met with the community development department and began discussions of the possibility of a rate increase.

"I'm just now evaluating the impact of a proposed rate increase on our current budget," said Martin. "It's kind of yet-to-be-determined what the impact would be since no firm numbers have been set. It's still hypothetical. Once the county makes some kind of proposal, then we'll act accordingly."

About 75 percent of the animals the Los Lunas animal control officers deliver for impoundment are picked up by their owners upon notification, said Christina Ainsworth, community development director.

Whatever rate increase the county proposes will be offset by the fees paid by the animal owners when they collect their animal at the shelter, she said.

"All entities are doing what they need to do to cover their costs," Martin said. "It's not surprising, it's just what's got to be done from their perspective, and if that's what has to be done, then we'll have to reevaluate how we're operating."

Since Belen must complete its 2013-14 budget by the end of this month, additional funds for animal control-related services from the county won't be included, said Belen City Manager Mary Lucy Baca.

Doubling these charges from the current $33,732 a year to the proposed rate will place the city in a financial bind, she said.

Although city officials would need to discuss where to come up with additional funds to cover these rising costs, Baca said additional funds could come from increasing the cost of animal licenses from $3 or enforcing the ordinance requiring residents to license their animals.

Belen Police Chief Dan Robb questions the number of Valencia County residents who bring in animals, claiming they were found in the Belen city limits, when really the animals are from Jarales or neighboring areas.

Belen's animal control officer recorded about 350 live dogs and cats a year taken to the county's shelter, while last year, the county recorded a total of 627 animals from Belen.

Robb said these numbers are questionable.

"Citizens are bringing in animals almost as frequently as our animal control officer?" Robb said. "I know they get a lot of people who are dropping them off or bringing them in, but are they bringing in that much? The numbers are off."

The city is asking the county to improve its animal counting system to find a better way to record how many animals are coming from each municipality, said Baca.

"There's a lot of people from Jarales or Rio Communities that, when you ask them where they are from, they'll say Belen, which doesn't necessarily mean they're from the city of Belen," Baca said.

Swingle said the numbers used to determine the new costs were based on the number of impounds brought in by an entity's animal control officers and from the community as well.

"Someone dropping off an animal may not understand how important that specificity is, in regards to where the animal is coming from," Swingle said. "We get as much information as we can as to where it was picked up or found. If they can't give us an address, then we get a street name."

Julie Pluemer, the Peralta town clerk, informed the council earlier this month the town is currently waiting to hear from the county regarding a JPA for use of the county's animal shelter.

She informed the council that she's been told the flat fee of $13,200 the town is currently paying might be increased on a per-animal basis. She estimated the cost might be triple what the town is currently paying.

According to the preliminary figures given by the county manager, the number of animals taken to the Valencia County Animal Shelter in 2012 was 294. That number suggests Peralta would pay more than $31,087.

"The town of Peralta is in the process of implementing our own animal control services. We now have a certified animal control officer, Richard Chavez, who will be handling the animal control issues," Pluemer said. "Our goal is to provide a better response time for town residents and more localized services."

She said at this time, the town of Peralta has not seen a proposed JPA from the county, and cannot comment on estimated charges the county may propose to Peralta.

"There still needs to be discussion between Peralta and the county as to how many animals may be housed and possible fees the town will have to pay for shelter services," Pluemer said.

Councilor Ginger Shoemaker suggested at the meeting that the town look for alternatives, including in Bernalillo County, before entering into a JPA with the county.

(News-Bulletin reporters Clara Garcia, Julia M. Dendinger, Deborah Fox and Abigail R. Ortiz contributed to this story.)