NEW PORT RICHEY — The city won't be able to launch its own animal control program as soon as officials had hoped.
The City Council voted last month to try to end its contract with Pasco County Animal Services, amid complaints that county animal control workers did not respond quickly to calls from city residents. New Port Richey hoped to end the contract April 1, but county staffers have recommended against pulling the plug before the contract ends Oct. 1.
County staff said it had already budgeted for staff positions and operational costs for this fiscal year. Dan Johnson, Pasco's assistant county administrator for public services, who oversees animal control services, said Wednesday he also had major reservations over whether New Port Richey could have its own program up and running by April 1, and whether it can be maintained.
"Animal services is a tough job. It's one of the toughest jobs in the county," Johnson said.
At their meeting Tuesday night, City Council members decided to move forward with an Oct. 1 changeover — though their displeasure with the county's stance was clear.
"The only thing they want is the money," council member Ginny Miller said of the county. "It's a shame when we're ready to go, and the county isn't."
Miller called the city's plan for an all volunteer unit "revolutionary," but details of how it will operate this fall are still being hashed out, police Chief James Steffens said.
The Police Department has been working toward creating a partnership with local veterinarians and nonprofit animal groups such as SPCA Suncoast to create a unit that will include at least one police officer, the chief said.
Officials are still figuring out which entities would handle animals on the ground and what the policy would be on euthanasia and other issues. The logistics of housing the animals is a big sticking point for the county.
Nonprofits and volunteer operations close their doors when their kennels are full, and in the past have referred city residents to the county shelter, Johnson said. Those referrals will have to cease once the city ends its contract with the county, he said.
Steffens said he has looked at possible city kennel sites, including the SPCA on Congress Street, but the best location may be the Police Department at 6739 Adams St.
The city predicts taking over the services would save an estimated $26,000 annually. Johnson said New Port Richey is under contract to pay the county $59,000 for services this year, and city finance officials estimate a one-time cost of $23,500 for purchase and construction of kennels. After that, Johnson said the city has projected to the county it can conduct animal control operations for less than $30,000 by its third year.
"More power to them if they can pull that off," he said.
More time for planning may give solace to county officials, who have warned New Port Richey that it will be difficult for them to come back to Pasco Animal Services if their own venture doesn't work out. Johnson said the county will do everything it can to help the city get its program ready by Oct. 1.
"We want to work with them quite frankly for selfish reasons, because if they are going to do this, and that is their right, it needs to work or it's going to have an adverse effect not only on the city, but also us," Johnson said. "I don't believe this will be adversarial in any way."
Steffens also said cooperation between the two will be crucial. And while the delay is disappointing, he said the extra time could help the city launch the best possible program.
"The attitude is to make the best of this unfortunate situation," Steffens said told the council.