NEW PORT RICHEY — One month ago, SPCA Suncoast canceled its $35,000 animal control contract with the city, saying the money did not cover the true costs of taking in stray and abused animals.
Now, the agency has come back with a price tag it says does reflect those costs: $168,000.
That steep increase has led City Manager Tom O'Neill to recommend the city contract instead with Pasco County, which would charge the city about $85,000 a year for animal-control services.
City Council members tonight will discuss the issue at a work session.
SPCA's pitch? We are a no-kill-for-space shelter, and the county is not. Executive director Martha Murray said SPCA costs more than the county because the agency pays the long-term costs of caring for and housing sick and injured animals.
"That comes out to be a more expensive factor," she said. "It's a difference in our mission."
SPCA officials say in their proposal to the city that Pasco County Animal Control euthanizes 80 percent of the animals that it takes in each year.
According to county estimates, Pasco Animal Control euthanized about 65 percent of the nearly 5,000 dogs it took in during the 2006-07 fiscal year and 90 percent of the 6,785 cats.
But county officials say it's unfair to use those figures without some context: The county shelter must take in all animals, including those that are too aggressive to be adopted and those that are too sick to be saved.
"That definitely puts the pressure on animal services," said Adey Reyes, the county's director of community services, which includes animal control.
Murray, of the SPCA, said that $168,000 could be negotiable, though the agency could not match the county's price. She said the SPCA shelter, which had a $530,000 operating budget last year, is slowly getting out of its serious financial troubles, which had led to the layoff of nearly 70 percent of the shelter's employees since last fall.
Revenue from adoptions has picked up dramatically in recent months as the agency spiffed up its shelter and increased its marketing, she said.
If SPCA were to take on the city contract at a lower price, she said, "I endanger the entire program again."
But she isn't confident that the city will want to take on such a price increase. After all, the city already needs to cut about $523,000 in next year's budget.
O'Neill, the city manager, said his recommendation to go with county animal control was based largely on the SPCA's budget increase. But the SPCA's sudden decision last month to cancel its contract, which did not expire until December, also gave him pause.
"What's next? We thought we had a contract and then we didn't," he said. "From my perspective, we know the county is going to be there."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.