NEW PORT RICHEY — Two experts who have volunteered to aid in launching New Port Richey's emerging effort to take over animal control from Pasco County are dissatisfied with the city's progress in getting the project off the ground.
For years, the city has contracted with Pasco County to handle its animal control, but in a cost-cutting measure, New Port Richey City Council members voted in January to cancel those services and move toward a volunteer unit spearheaded by the city's police department.
It was a plan years in the making crafted by veterinarian Dr. Terry Spencer and Sharon McReynolds, CEO of the downtown medical firm Advanced Healthcare Alternatives, for city police to provide infrastructure for a volunteer unit to provide animal services.
In the months leading up to the changeover, however, county officials have questioned whether canceling the $59,000 annual contract is the right move, and a recent letter sent to city police officials by the Pasco County Health Department questioning how the fledgling animal protection unit would handle rabies cases raised red flags for the program's creators.
With the city's contract with the county expiring Oct. 1, there has been nothing done by the New Port Richey to take the steps to getting the program going, McReynolds and Spencer wrote in an email sent to city council members and New Port Richey Police Chief James Steffens after seeing the county's letter.
The pair wrote in the email that background checks had not been done on prospective volunteers, ordinances needed for the program to operate have not been drafted, and for three months they have received no communication from the city on the project.
Spencer and McReynolds stated they hoped the city has made progress that officials haven't yet told them about.
"If this is not the case, unfortunately, we feel we can no longer put our support behind this project, knowing that when it does not meet the expectations, blame will fall on us, when we have no control on its demise. We both are disappointed and heartbroken not to see this plan to fruition," the email stated.
Steffens said the city's efforts to cancel the contract with the county in recent months have stalled progress on the project, but a discussion with McReynolds and Spencer would relieve their fears.
"They are the leading experts in the field, and with three months left I am fully confident we can get the issues they are concerned about solved," Steffens said. "I am not in the panic business, I am about solutions. Calmer heads will prevail, and we will be up and running Oct. 1."
The day after sending the email both McReynolds and Spencer told the Tampa Bay Times they still want the project to move forward, but hoped their correspondence with city officials served as wake-up call.
We just need to know they are making progress toward the goal," Spencer said. "We were getting no information, and I'm worried because it's going to take time."