County set to start up new animal shelter

County set to start up new animal shelter »Play Video
A dog in seen in January 2012 at the Kern County Animal Control shelter. (File photo)
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Kern County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to build a new animal shelter, though it's not clear just where that will be.

With the decision, the county will pull out of the location on South Mt. Vernon, which it has leased from the city of Bakersfield for 30 years.

In return, the county has been taking animals from the city into the shelter. Though the city is now balking at new rates the county wants to charge it.

But, county leaders insist the change is not just about money. The big issue is getting a new facility where better services can be provided than the current shelter.

"For over 15 years, I've heard nothing but complaints about this facility," Supervisor Jon McQuiston said. "The overcrowding in the cages, the physical conditions. And there's only so much that you can do at that site."

So, Public Health Director Matt Constantine recommends the county build a new shelter. He told the board two possible locations have been identified, but he declined to say where those are.

Constantine insists a new location will give the county a chance to design and build a better shelter. He wants all indoor kennels, housing only one animal each.

The health director said a new facility could also improve adoption facilities, meaning more animals finds new homes.

Supervisor Ray Watson also worries about the current shelter.

"The facilities themselves limit what we can do," Watson said. "And second, the relationship with the city is not one that's equitable."

Since last fall, the county's tried to get Bakersfield to pay more for the care of animals from city areas. The city has paid $340,000 a year, but the county says their real costs are about $1.1 million

"The county has really taken a hard line," Assistant Bakersfield City Manager Steven Teglia told Eyewitness News. "Sort of -- take it, or leave it."

Teglia said the city had suggested looking more at the how the county figured their tab for animal care. "I don't doubt the numbers," he said. "But again, I think when you have a tripling of our costs, then proper scrutiny is justified."

Tuesday, county supervisors said they hope the city will join them in a partnership at the new shelter.

"The Board clearly has indicated that they would like us to continue to negotiate with the city," Constantine said.

But, Teglia said the city has no information about the county's plans.

"I'd like to know a little bit more about the details of the new facility that was spoken about today," he said.

Asked if the city would be charged about the same at a new site, Constantine told Eyewitness News it would probably be "somewhat similar."

Teglia said the city's now looking at other options, like a possible partnership with the SPCA.

But, the county is starting to move forward. The vote Tuesday approves the purchase of 300 modular kennels. Constantine said they can be used in the new site, and they have to be ordered now to be ready in six months.

The vote also gives the city six month's notice to terminate the land lease. That will now end on October 21, and Constantine said the county can be moved out by that date.

But, that still leaves some tricky timing.

The agreement with the city for operation costs runs out on July 1, so under the remaining term of the land lease -- the county could be required to care for city animals at no charge until they leave Mt. Vernon.

Supervisor Mike Maggard hopes things can be worked out. "I'm open to operating a joint facility with the City of Bakersfield, I'm open to continuing to have discussions," he said.

Even going alone, he's convinced the county has to make a change in order to deal with pet over-population.

"This step is necessary to take this to the next level to be able to manage the animal control problem that we have," he said.

McQuiston agreed, saying Kern the county is now losing too much money under the current agreement with the city.

"But, I'm equally interested in the quality of care that we're giving to our animals," McQuiston continued, supporting the change. "It's makes good business sense, and it also improves the care of animals."