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Money woes force SPCA to cancel contract with New Port Richey

NEW PORT RICHEY — Serious money problems have forced the west Pasco agency that cares for stray and abused animals to slash its work force by nearly 70 percent.

That means the SPCA Suncoast, a no-kill-for-space shelter, can care for only about 40 animals now, compared to the 200 it could handle when fully-staffed, executive director Martha Murray said.

The employee count has gradually dropped from 22 last fall to seven today through layoffs and attrition, she said.

Even with the payroll savings, the Congress Street shelter is losing money each month. Murray declined to say exactly how much, though she said the staff reductions have greatly reduced the loss, which was in the thousands.

"This is a hard time for nonprofits," said Murray. "It's pretty slim everywhere."

The latest fallout from the squeeze? The SPCA last week informed New Port Richey that it would terminate its city contract.

Under the contract, the SPCA charged the city $75 to pick up an animal in the city limits during regular service hours and $85 to pick up one after hours. The city also paid veterinarian fees.

All that typically added up to the city paying roughly $35,000 to $41,000 a year, but Murray said the fees, set in 2005, aren't enough to cover all the costs: caring for sick animals, spaying and neutering, and housing the creatures indefinitely until they get adopted. Plus rising overhead costs, including the price of gas, have made the situation even worse, she said.

"It was just at the point where we couldn't promise them any more," said Murray. "What we can't do is compromise the health of the animals."

The SPCA's board of directors may consider negotiating a new contract with the city if the finances are right, she said.

New Port Richey recently represented the largest source of revenue for the SPCA. Murray said that's changing as the shelter has raised its adoption fees and tried to be more aggressive in fundraising.

Last September, the SPCA asked the city to pay $16,355 this fiscal year to subsidize a monthly clinic where city residents could get stray cats fixed for a reduced charge. A split council rejected the request.

The SPCA's recent financial problems had become apparent to the city's police department, which responds to citizen complaints about stray animals and contacts the SPCA to pick up the dogs or cats.

"Over the last couple of months, it's gotten harder and harder to get them out there," said Assistant Police Chief Darryl Garman.

Under the city contract, the SPCA caps the monthly number of animals picked up in the city limits at 15 dogs and 20 cats. The SPCA does make exceptions to the quota, however, on animal cruelty cases.

SPCA Suncoast also has a contract with Port Richey, but Murray said the demand from that city is much lower, roughly two calls per month compared to the 35 to 40 a month from New Port Richey.

Pasco County Animal Control, which provides services to Dade City, St. Leo and Zephyrhills, has told the city it will help out temporarily until New Port Richey officials either renegotiate a contract with the SPCA or enter into a contract with the county.

Tom O'Neill, New Port Richey city manager, said he was partial toward working out a new agreement with the SPCA. For one, the agency's shelter is much closer than the county's Land O'Lakes facility. And before the latest problems, he said, the relationship with the SPCA had been a good one.

"We want to make an attempt to work with them," he said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at (727) 869-6247 or jtillman@sptimes.com.

>>Fast facts

What happens now?

Pasco County Animal Control has told New Port Richey it will help out temporarily until officials either renegotiate a contract with the SPCA or enter into a contract with the county.

Money woes force SPCA to cancel contract with New Port Richey 04/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2008 2:07pm]

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