NEW PORT RICHEY — City officials are not happy with animal control services Pasco County is providing New Port Richey, and they want out of a contract to turn over operations to nonprofit volunteers.
This year, New Port Richey is under contract to pay Pasco County Animal Services $75,000 for animal control, but the City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday allowing staff to try to end the contract early.
City officials will ask Pasco County commissioners to terminate the contract, starting April 1, to move onto a planned partnership with the nonprofit SPCA Suncoast, New Port Richey police Chief James Steffens told the council Tuesday.
Hopes for savings and better service to residents has City Manager John Schneiger calling the plan worth the risk of getting a new program running in a matter of months.
Schneiger said calls regarding animal problems in the city are often put on the back burner, and the county only offers animal services during weekday work hours. Night and weekend service is available only for emergencies.
"We have received numerous complaints from residents and council members who have been unhappy with the county's services," Schneiger said. "There is always risk in making a change like this, but we believe it will work."
The city's dissatisfaction was news to the county, according to Dan Johnson, assistant county administrator for public services.
"Nothing was ever conveyed to us," Johnson said.
Steffens and city finance director Douglas Haag have spearheaded discussions with the SPCA for creation of the city's planned volunteer animal protection unit, which they said would save an estimated $26,000 annually.
This fiscal year estimates are the program will cost about $57,000, with $23,400 for a one-time startup for the construction of a shed and kennels. The city will also need to revamp its animal control ordinances to follow the new program, according to Schneiger.
That's about all that is known thus far about the particulars of how a shift in services would work.
Many things remain undecided, including where kennels will be housed, how the city will handle cats and the ever touchy subject of a euthanasia policy.
Steffens said the city will likely build its kennels at SPCA headquarters on Congress Street, after concerns were raised to the police department that neighbors might be disturbed by barking dogs.
"I have toured the SPCA's facility and it appears they will be able to handle what we need," Steffens said.
In an initial presentation to the council at a work session Sept. 13, city officials had also planned to take on the handling of cats, which the county does not, including a sterilization program of feral cats, and also administration of a licensing program. That, however, appears to off the table as Schneiger said the new program most likely will not include cats.
But the biggest sticking point for the county could be the SPCA's "no-kill" policy, which could mean animals collected in the city may still end up at the county's shelter, which has a policy not to turn away any animal.
County officials fear that should the SPCA's kennels become full, it will close its doors and refer animals to the county shelter.
"The reality is there really is no such thing as a 'no-kill' shelter," Johnson said. "All they are doing is really transferring the burden."
In a statement to New Port Richey, Johnson wrote, "consequently, I would request that the city provide some assurance that it will be responsible for animals belonging to your residents."
Steffens has pledged that the city will have its new protection unit operating in 30 to 60 days, and said a policy on euthanizing will need to be discussed.
"We all know that there is no choice but to euthanize some animals, whether they are sick or too aggressive for adoption," Steffens said. "So that is something we are going to have to negotiate."
Johnson has also warned the city needs to get its program right because the county will not want New Port Richey coming back for services.
"We handle animal services for all the cities in the county as a convenience," Johnson said. "It's going to be very difficult for them to stop, then start back up again."